Trump warns Comey on leaks, suggests possibility of tapes

trump-comeyWASHINGTON: WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump warned fired FBI director James Comey against leaking to the news media on Friday, suggesting that their conversations may have been taped.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote in one of several Twitter posts on Friday morning in which he challenged the news media and Comey.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return a telephone call or email seeking comment about whether such tapes existed.

The warning from Trump brought new comparisons to former President Richard Nixon, who secretly recorded 3,700 hours of phone calls and meetings from 1971 to 1973. Those tapes played a role in Nixon’s Aug. 8, 1974, resignation amid the Watergate scandal, according to Nixontapes.org, a website developed to archiving the conversations.

The tapes had been subpoenaed by the Watergate special counsel, Archibald Cox, but Nixon only provided select transcripts, claiming executive privilege. Nixon then fired Cox in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”.

Trump’s barrage of early-morning tweets showed no signs of ending his feud with the FBI and Comey, whom he fired on Tuesday and has since called a “showboat” and “grandstander.” Trump claimed, without offering proof, that Comey had assured him he’s not under investigation as part of the bureau’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

NBC interview

In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Trump said Comey assured him during a dinner meeting and in two telephone calls that he wasn’t personally the subject of an investigation. The New York Times reported that Comey associates disputed that assertion and other aspects of Trump’s version of the encounter, such as that Comey requested the dinner with the newly elected president.

Trump on Friday also threatened to cancel White House media briefings and said other U.S. officials had concluded there was no collusion between his campaign and Russians.

The US intelligence community has largely concluded that Russia interfered in the American presidential election to harm Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As it kept shifting explanations for how and why Comey was fired, the White House at one point cited a memo written by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which laid out the argument against Comey without calling for his dismissal. Yet Trump in the NBC interview dispatched with that explanation, saying he would have fired the director regardless of what his top Justice Department officials said.

Cancel briefings

“As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at the podium with perfect accuracy!” Trump tweeted Friday. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”

Yet try as he might, Trump cannot escape Russia as congressional probes push ahead and the nation’s top law-enforcement agency shows no sign of backing down in the face of the president’s criticism.

Comey’s temporary replacement, Andrew McCabe, made clear that he liked and respected Comey, had no intention of briefing Trump on the investigation into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign as long as he held the job and considered it one of the most important probes underway at the Justice Department.

McCabe, a 21-year-veteran of the bureau, made an effort during Senate testimony Thursday to dispute White House assertions that his former boss had lost the trust of FBI rank-and-file.

“Director Comey enjoyed broad support in the FBI and still does to this day,” McCabe said Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said that working with Comey was “the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life”.

Trump’s assurances

Trump seemed to acknowledge the Russia probe might touch people once close to him, taking pains to point out Thursday, in an interview with NBC News, that Comey assured him three times he’s not in trouble — but offered no such assurance regarding others in his campaign.

“I know that I’m not under investigation. Me. Personally,” Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt. “I’m not talking about campaigns. I’m not talking about anything else.”

He went on to say that he had sent a letter to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, certifying that he had no business interests in Russia: “I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever.”

The clash between the president and the nation’s premier law enforcement agency continued a week of high drama in Washington.

Fired acting Attorney-General Sally Yates testimony on May 8 raised new questions about why the White House waited 18 days to dismiss National Security Adviser Michael Flynn from his post after he misled officials — including Vice-President Mike Pence — about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the US.