Trump’s ‘Tapes’ Trick
He took his sweet time, but President Trump admitted late last week that he doesn’t have tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey in the White House. Most Trump watchers had concluded as much, but the episode is still worth highlighting as an illustration of how Mr. Trump undermines his credibility as Commander in Chief when he plays social-media troll.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!,” Mr. Trump tweeted on May 12, three days after firing Mr. Comey. We now know this was a bluff, perhaps intended to coax Mr. Comey to keep quiet about his conversations with Mr. Trump.
The White House refused for weeks to confirm or deny if such tapes existed, and on Thursday Mr. Trump finally ended the suspense with a pair of tweets declaring that, “With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea . . . whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”
Mr. Trump’s suggestion that someone else might have taped those conversations looks like more misdirection because it’s highly unlikely that the National Security Agency or anyone else is taping the President in the Oval Office. If someone is taping without Mr. Trump’s knowledge, the U.S. has bigger problems than presidential trolling.
But we do know that Mr. Trump’s original “tapes” tweet caused Mr. Comey, by his own testimony to Congress, to leak via a buddy a memo of one conversation with Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey said his goal was to trigger the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump, and he succeeded. Far from keeping Mr. Comey quiet, Mr. Trump’s “tapes” tweet led to the creation of a mortal threat to his Presidency.
The episode is further proof that the biggest obstacle to an effective Trump Presidency is Mr. Trump. The tweeting by itself isn’t the problem. The problem is that he thinks he can use the platform to spread misinformation as often as he tries to communicate facts about his agenda.
He shouldn’t be surprised if Americans conclude they therefore can’t believe him even when he is telling the truth.