From the Twitter frying pan into the Twitter fire. Donald Trump claimed in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that James Comey asked to meet with him in order to save his job. During that dinner, Trump said, Comey insisted that Trump was not a target of the Russia probe, emphasis mine:
HOLT: Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey. You write “I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.” Why did you put that in there?
TRUMP: Because he told me that. I mean he told me it.
HOLT: He told you weren’t under investigation regardless–
TRUMP: Yes and I’ve heard that from others I think–
HOLT: Was it in a phone call, did you meet face to face?
TRUMP: I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. And at that time he told me you are not under investigation.
According to two sources in another NBC report, neither of those claims is true. Comey did not request the dinner meeting, which took place in January, and did not directly answer the question Trump posed either:
Despite what President Donald Trump said earlier in the day, James Comey did not seek a dinner with the president to retain his job, one current and one former FBI official close to Comey told NBC News Thursday evening.
The January dinner meeting between the two men, the sources said, was requested by the White House. And the former senior FBI official said Comey would never have told the president he was not under investigation — also contradicting what Trump said.
“He tried to stay away from it [the Russian-ties investigation],” said the former official, who worked closely with Comey and keeps in touch with him. “He would say, ‘look sir, I really can’t get into it, and you don’t want me to.'”
Hmmm. Sounds like a classic he-said, he-said situation. Until Tuesday, one of these hes would have had to keep his mouth shut, even if it might have been better if the other one did as well. Now, however, James Comey could easily start giving his side of these stories in interviews, being no longer under any particular obligation to keep quiet (except, of course, about the specifics of the investigations).
Apparently that thought occurred to Trump this morning, too. And that prompted this very strange tweet:
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
That’s … not a good look.
Is he saying there's a White House taping system a la Nixon? https://t.co/9D3lZMULOy
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) May 12, 2017
Nothing says Nixonian like threatening aides with secret taping systems, eh? Yesterday, even Bob Woodward was pushing back against comparisons to Watergate. Today, the President himself seems eager to raise the specter all on his own. It’s as if the Trump administration has a strange sort of nostalgia for all the worst parts of the early 1970s.
Does Trump have a taping system in place? It’s (almost) certainly a bluff, a way to humiliate Comey on his way out the door and presumably to discredit him. This White House is too disorganized to have installed a sophisticated covert taping system. The bigger question is why Trump wants to publicly humiliate the outgoing FBI director. It can’t just be because Comey wouldn’t profess a personal loyalty to him … can it?
This can’t end well for Trump. Rather than give Comey an easy way out to obscurity, Trump’s daring him to go public with what he knows. As Rod Rosenstein pointed out fairly and accurately in his review of Comey’s actions last year, that’s precisely what Comey is inclined to do when he sees injustice occurring. In a credibility contest fought in the media arena, where Trump is pushing it, Comey will beat Trump every time. Maybe someone at the White House should find a way to bloc Trump’s access to Twitter for a while.
Addendum: How long will it be before soon-to-retire House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz starts demanding testimony from White House officials on whether a taping system exists? Over/under: Monday.