Friday, May 12, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

As Ben Mathis-Lilley put it, "it appears that Trump may have just falsely accused himself of wiretapping himself."

Trump started the morning with this tweet: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" This was in response to reports that Trump had summoned then-FBI Director Comey to a White House dinner the day after being briefed about Michael Flynn's security vulnerability, and--according to friends of Comey--repeatedly demanded that Comey pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. (Comey refused.)

Only Donald Trump knows for sure if he secretly recorded conversations with Comey--a practice that presidents since Nixon have shied away from, for obvious reasons. If such recordings existed, they would create several legal headaches for Trump. They would be covered by the Presidential Records Act, meaning they would be subject to subpoena and that it would be illegal for Trump to destroy them. And since Trump himself has connected Comey's firing to his desire to see the Russia investigation end--which is obstruction of justice on its face--those recordings likely would be requested in any investigation. And that, in turn, would potentially make Trump's not-too-veiled Twitter threat from this morning witness intimidation.

The tweet provoked instantaneous demands that Trump release any such recordings. By midday, Sean Spicer and Trump himself had become much more tight-lipped on the existence of recordings. In an interview with Fox News' Jeanine Pirro this afternoon, Trump started walking back his version of the "dinner" story, claiming that it would have been appropriate for him to demand a loyalty pledge from Comey, but that he had not done so. Federal employees do take an oath--to the Constitution, not the president.

Why should I care about this?

  • It is under no circumstances whatsoever appropriate for a president to demand a pledge of personal loyalty from the director of the FBI.
  • As things stand, the best possible explanation of this situation for Trump is that he lost his temper and lashed out with an angry lie.