(AP/Evan Vucci)

Lawmakers call for release of Comey "tapes," as White House refuses to confirm Trump's claim

"To destroy them would be a violation of the law," the Democratic leader in the Senate says


Matthew Sheffield
May 16, 2017 3:03AM (UTC)

Has Donald Trump been secretly recording his presidential conversations? It's been the No. 1 question in the political world after the president took to Twitter last Friday and publicly claimed to have recordings of the former FBI Director James Comey.

While the White House has finally settled on refusing to offer further comment after bungling the explanation for Comey's firing for days, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are now calling on Trump to relinquish any recording of the former FBI director.

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"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Trump wrote last week.

The threat to expose Comey was probably a reference to a claim that the president made in the May 9 termination letter that he sent the FBI director. "I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation," Trump wrote, apparently alluding to the ongoing FBI investigation of Russian attempts to interfere in the last presidential election and contacts that Trump campaign officials had with the Russian government of Vladimir Putin.

Trump has insisted he had no involvement in the alleged activities and has frequently chafed at the investigation as it has continued and expanded. In public statements, White House officials initially said that they believed firing Comey, who had been previously criticized by many Democrats, would have garnered accolades for the president instead of comparisons to former President Richard Nixon's actions.

The possible existence of secret White House recordings is another real Nixon parallel.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Sunday,“If there are any tapes of this conversation they need to be turned over." And he told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, “You can’t be cute about tapes.”

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On the Senate floor Monday, the Democrats' leader, New York's Chuck Schumer, explicitly called upon Trump to give up any and all recordings he had made that were relevant to Comey's firing. "If there are tapes, as the president has suggested, he should turn them over immediately to Congress and the investigators. To destroy them would be a violation of the law. And if there are no tapes, he should apologize to James Comey and to the American people for misleading them," Schumer said.

Also on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a formal Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking all relevant records pertaining to Comey's termination.

“White House interference with any FBI investigation is incompatible with democratic safeguards, and that’s especially the case when the investigation involves the president or his associates. Political meddling with law enforcement investigations is a recipe for abuse of power,” the ACLU's director of its National Security Project said in a news release. “The public has a right to know why Comey was fired so the president can be held accountable for any abuse of his position. It’s impossible to know the truth right now because the Trump administration has issued shifting explanations, each of which is increasingly troubling.”

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Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via m.sheffield@salon.com or follow him on Twitter.

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