Updated at 12:34 p.m. | President Donald Trump threatened former FBI Director James Comey on Friday, suggesting he might have recorded their private conversations and is prepared to release them if Comey talks to the media.
In an extraordinary tweet, even by Trump’s standards, the president wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
The tweet immediately conjured up thoughts of former President Richard Nixon, who resigned during the Watergate scandal and infamously recorded conversations that helped lead to his decision to step down.
White House officials, however, have rejected such comparisons, and, echoing their boss, say the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling and possible nefarious ties to his campaign is a minor matter on the bureau’s docket.
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
Neither of Trump’s two principal spokespeople — Sean Spicer or Sara Huckabee Sanders, immediately responded to an email seeking comment about the existence of any tapes.
By early afternoon Friday, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said that Trump should hand over any such tapes to lawmakers - or publicly admit none actually exist.
"For a President who baselessly accused his predecessor (Barack Obama) of illegally wiretapping him, that Mr. Trump would suggest that he, himself, may have engaged in such conduct is staggering," Schiff said in a statement. "The president should immediately provide any such recordings to Congress or admit, once again, to have made a deliberately misleading – and in this case threatening – statement."
Comey has kept a low profile since being fired on Tuesday evening, but some of his friends and associates have talked to reporters. Some have said Comey expressed major concerns about Trump, reportedly telling friends the president is “crazy.”
In one of his most memorable morning tweet blasts of his still-young presidency, Trump also lashed out at Democrats and the media, while trying to give Spicer and Sanders cover after a rough week.
Trump also trolled the White House press corps by tweeting that he might cancel “all future” daily press briefings after his press secretary and his top deputy — as well as Vice President Mike Pence — spent 48 hours explaining his decision to fire Comey in ways that the president himself on Thursday made clear were not accurate.
...Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
The Fake Media is working overtime today!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
In a Friday morning tweet series, the president appears very much back on his heels and playing defense after setting off a firestorm in a Thursday NBC News interview. He told Lester Holt that he had decided long ago to fire Comey, contradicting what Spicer, Sanders, Pence, and other top aides had told reporters for two days.
Trump again tried to to dismiss the FBI’s probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, including possible nefarious coordination between his campaign and Russia. He said the probe “was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election,” rather than one launched by the bureau’s career law enforcement professionals.
Again, the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Spicer, Sanders, Pence and other top White House officials have vigorously denied that the FBI’s Russia investigation was part of the president’s calculus when he decided to fire Comey.
They all said it Trump made the decision only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his top deputy delivered memos to Trump calling for Comey’s termination because he had circumvented Justice Department leadership twice last year in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s personal email server use as secretary of state.
(Sanders later admitted Trump met with the Justice Department officials on Monday, when he asked them to put their concerns and recommendation in writing.)
But in nothing short of a bombshell, Trump torched those denials on Thursday.
“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,’” he told NBC.
Trump fired off yet another tweet just before 9 a.m., referring to comments made by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that he has no knowledge of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Given those comments, Trump asked rhetorically, “When does it end?”
When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Sanders told reporters Thursday afternoon, about an hour after NBC released snippets of the interview, that she thought the information she delivered Tuesday through Thursday morning were accurate. Why? She only finally talked to Trump about it before Thursday’s press briefing, which occurred after the Holt interview.
That prompted the president to seemingly defend his top aides in a Friday morning tweet.
He described it as impossible for Spicer and Sanders to explain his decision-making and presidency with “perfect accuracy,” because he is “a very active president.”
As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.