Hard to believe. Gaslighting the public seems so unlike him.

This is the quintessential Trump psych-out insofar as it leaves you free to believe whatever you like. If you’re a Trump fan, obviously he was just playing head games with Comey and the media when he tweeted about “tapes” in May. That’s what they get for being so suspicious of him. In fact, his suggestion above that other people in the government might have tapes of them talking via “electronic surveillance” of the Oval Office is itself a bit of icing-on-the-cake gaslighting. It’s like a Unified Field Theory of deep-state paranoia: Trump is linking his tweet about the phantom Comey tapes to his tweets in March about Obama “tapping” him in Trump Tower. You never know what the NSA might have!

If you’re a Trump critic, meanwhile, it’s entirely possible he’s lying here about there being no tapes because he knows they’ll back up Comey’s account of what was said about Mike Flynn and Russia. Rather than produce the tapes or fight a subpoena in court for years, he’s either destroyed them or still has them but is falsely claiming that they don’t exist. The man’s been recording people during office meetings for ages. What are the odds that he ended that habit as soon as he took over the most important job in the world? And if there are no tapes, why wouldn’t Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway have flatly said so when they were asked about this over the past six weeks? Even Trump’s inner circle may be so uncertain about whether recordings exist that they don’t want to commit to a position, fearing that Bob Mueller will take an interest later if it turns out they’re wrong.

A “person familiar with the matter” told Bloomberg this morning that no tapes exist, and as I noted in another post, Newt Gingrich hinted pretty strongly to the AP that Trump was just bluffing when he first mentioned the tapes:

Several outside advisers who speak to Trump regularly said the president has not mentioned the existence of tapes during their conversations. White House aides have been known to grimace when the subject comes up, and more than a half-dozen staffers said they were unaware of any recording devices. All demanded anonymity to speak about private discussions with the president…

“I think he was in his way instinctively trying to rattle Comey,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump confidant. “He’s not a professional politician. He doesn’t come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: ‘I’ll outbluff you.'”

That’s the benign interpretation, that he was trying to “rattle” Comey. The less benign interpretation was that he was trying to intimidate Comey into silence by suggesting that he had something on audio that Comey wouldn’t want made public. That might have worked with a less cautious person: Imagine if a former friend turned enemy threatened to release audio of phone calls between you if you attacked them in public. You might panic and spend the next few days wracking your brain to try to remember whether you’d said anything to him that might damage your reputation. Comey, however, was on guard around Trump from the beginning, to the point that he (allegedly) took the extra precaution of memorializing their conversations in writing. Trump couldn’t bluff him into silence because Comey was prepared for this scenario all along. Ironically, in fact, it was Trump’s “tapes” tweet that inspired Comey to release his memo to the Times via a friend a few days after. That’s the second time that Trump damaged his own cause in how he handled his former deputy. If he had left him in place at the FBI, Comey might have ended up clearing him in the Russiagate matter sooner rather than later and there’d be no special counsel to worry about. And if Trump had resisted the urge to intimidate him by tweeting about tapes, Comey might not have felt the need to present his side of what happened via the leaked memo. Oh well.

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