President Donald Trump seemed to threaten the former FBI director, James Comey, last week, insinuating -- on Twitter, of course -- that he might release tapes of their conversations at a dinner in the White House and twice over the telephone.
A lot pivots on this, of course. Trump says that Comey assured him that he was not a target of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. News accounts have cited unnamed confidantes of Comey who have said that Comey never discussed the investigation in detail with Trump, even after the president inquired.
A tape-recorded version of any of those conversations would make one of the men out to be a liar.
This won’t settle the matter, but I think it’s highly unlikely that the president has tapes stashed in the White House.
Here’s why: Trump lied to me repeatedly about the same kind of thing.
Back in the early 2000s, Trump used to tell me all the time that he was recording me when I covered him as reporter for the New York Times. He also said the same thing when I was writing a biography of him, “TrumpNation.” I never thought he was, but who could be sure?
Trump sued me for libel shortly after the book was published in 2005, arguing that the representation in “TrumpNation” of his track record as a businessman and his wealth had damaged his reputation. He lost the case in 2011.
During the litigation, my lawyers deposed Trump for two days in December 2007. Under oath, Trump said he never recorded our conversations and that his Trump Tower office was not equipped to do so.
“Mr. Trump, did you ever tape-record your conversations with Mr. O’Brien?” my lawyer, Andrew Ceresney, asked.
“No, I did not. He tape-recorded all of my conversations with him, however,” Trump responded.
The deposition continued.
“Mr. Trump, did you ever tell Mr. O’Brien you were tape-recording conversations with him?”
“I’m not equipped to tape-record. I may have said it once or twice to him just to -- on the telephone, because everything I said to him he’d write incorrectly; so just to try and keep it honest.”
Here’s a little piece of the deposition transcript:
Trump also said that he wanted to tape-record me because I was “so sick,” and a “degenerate.” So I get it. I guess I would tape me if I thought that way about myself.
Former Trump Organization staffers have told the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that they worried that Trump was recording them when they worked there. Some employees said they saw devices. Others noted that a copy of one recorded conversation was introduced in court. Still others said they believed they were being taped because Trump’s assistants listened in on calls.
Maybe. But the truth has never gotten in the way of the president telling a good story or trying to flex his muscles. So I don’t think Comey has much to worry about.
By Timothy L. O’Brien
Timothy L. O’Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg View. -- Ed.