After possibly admitting to obstruction of justice in a TV interview on Thursday, the next morning President Trump tried to smooth things over by publicly threatening his former FBI director, tweeting, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
In the pre-Trump era, a president publicly bragging about Nixonian behavior would likely spark outrage across the political spectrum. As the Washington Post notes, over the weekend there were technically bipartisan calls for Trump to turn over the tapes to Congress, if they exist. But the Republican effort to get to the bottom of the president’s shocking claim basically consisted of two GOP senators saying it would be great if the president would explain himself.
Sunday on Meet the Press, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he thinks former FBI director James Comey should testify before the Judiciary Committee, which Graham sits on. “Did the president ever say anything to the director of the FBI that would be construed as trying to impede the investigation?” Graham mused. As for the recordings, “If there are any tapes, they have to be turned over,” Graham said. “You can’t be cute about tapes. If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over. I doubt if there are. But we need to clear the air.”
On Fox News Sunday, Senator Mike Lee said he thinks “it’s probably inevitable” that the tapes will be subpoenaed by Congress, though he didn’t suggest that he would have any role in making that happen. When asked what he thinks of the possibility that President Trump set up a taping system in the White House, Lee said, “I don’t know,” noting that “it hasn’t always turned out well” for other presidents.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats had much stronger opinions on the possible recordings. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on CNN’s State of the Union that if the tapes exist, the president should turn them over to Congress and investigators “immediately,” and “to destroy them would be a violation of law.” He said if they don’t exist, Trump “should apologize to both Jim Comey and the American people for misleading them.”
Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said either his committee or another panel will “absolutely” subpoena the recordings. “We have got to make sure that these tapes, if they exist, don’t mysteriously disappear,” Warner said.
Several House Democrats have already attempted to obtain the tapes. Last week, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi sent a letter asking White House Counsel Donald McGahn to send any recordings of Trump’s conversations with Comey to the House Oversight Committee. Then Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, and Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, sent McGahn another letter requesting copies of the tapes.
“The President’s actions this morning — as well as his admission yesterday on national television that he fired Director Comey because he was investigating Trump campaign officials and their connections to the Russian government — raise the specter of possible intimidation and obstruction of justice,” Cummings and Conyers wrote. “The President’s actions also risk undermining the ongoing criminal and counter-intelligence investigations and the independence of federal law enforcement agencies.”
So far, nothing has come of these requests, and if the vast majority of GOP lawmakers remain ambivalent about the possibility that the president secretly taped the FBI director, perhaps nothing ever will.