President Trump suggested Friday that there may be “tapes” of his private conversations with FBI Director James B. Comey, whom he fired earlier this week, in what appeared to be an attempt to threaten Comey about “leaking to the press.”
In his tweet, Trump appears to suggest that he may have recordings of his communications with Comey. But it is unclear if such tapes exist.
Trump's tweet about Comey was likely a reaction to a New York Times report, published Thursday night detailing a one-on-one dinner Trump had with Comey shortly after the inauguration. The report said that Comey has told associates that Trump twice asked Comey during their conversation to pledge his loyalty to him, something the FBI director declined to do.
During his afternoon press briefing Friday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked repeatedly whether the president had listening devices installed in the Oval Office. Spicer refused to confirm or deny whether Trump was taping conversations.
“I’ve talked to the president; the president has nothing further to add on that,” Spicer said.
Spicer said that Trump's tweet about the tapes was “not a threat,” but he refused to elaborate further. The president “simply stated a fact, the tweet speaks for itself,” Spicer said.
In his tweet, Trump put the word tapes in quotation marks, indicating that there may be a some kind of record of his conversation with Comey, whether or not it's an actual audio or video recording. He used a similar construct in two of his March 4 tweets accusing President Barack Obama, without any evidence, of wiretapping his campaign offices. Trump put the words “wires tapped” in quotation marks, which Spicer later argued meant surveillance activities more broadly as opposed to physical wiretapping.
In an interview Thursday with NBC News anchor Lester Holt, Trump said that he spoke three separate times with Comey about whether he was the subject of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election — once over dinner and twice during phone calls.
Trump's tweet Friday drew immediate comparisons to President Richard Nixon's practice of taping his private conversations in the Oval Office. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted, “Presidents are supposed to have stopped routinely taping visitors without their knowledge when Nixon's taping system was revealed in 1973.”