Trump Warning to Comey Prompts Questions on ‘Tapes’

No president in the past 40 years has been known to regularly tape his phone calls or meetings because, among other reasons, they could be subpoenaed by investigators as they were during the Watergate investigation that ultimately forced President Richard M. Nixon to resign.

.. “For a president who baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping him, that Mr. Trump would suggest that he, himself, may have engaged in such conduct is staggering,”

.. He denied that the president was threatening the former F.B.I. director. “That’s not a threat,” Mr. Spicer said. “He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.”

.. Mr. Trump suggested he was seriously thinking about canceling the briefings. “Unless I have them every two weeks and I do them myself, we don’t have them,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

.. Every president in modern times has been frustrated with the news media at points, but they all preserved the tradition of the daily briefing, if for no other reason than to get their message out. Mr. Trump, with Twitter as his own trumpet, may feel less need for that.

.. Mr. Trump has long been said by allies and former employees to have taped some of his own phone calls

.. But the implicit threat to Mr. Comey was ripped from a familiar playbook that Mr. Trump relied on during the campaign to silence critics or dissent.

  1. he read aloud the mobile telephone number of one rival, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, from the stage at a rally and encouraged people to flood his phone with calls.
  2. he threatened on Twitter to tell stories about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” after they criticized him.
  3. He also railed against the wealthy Ricketts family as it was funding anti-Trump efforts, threatening to air some unspecified dirty laundry.
  4. while competing with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for the Republican presidential nomination, he threatened to expose something unflattering about his opponent’s wife. “Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” he said.

.. Mr. Trump’s warning on Twitter to quiet Mr. Comey could be viewed as an effort to intimidate a witness for any current or future investigation into whether the firing of the F.B.I. director amounted to obstruction of justice.

“If this were an actual criminal investigation — in other words, if there were a prosecutor and a defense lawyer in the picture — this would draw a severe phone call to counsel warning that the defendant is at serious risk of indictment if he continues to speak to witnesses,” Mr. Buell said. “Thus, this is also definitive evidence that Trump is not listening to counsel and perhaps not even talking to counsel. Unprecedented in the modern presidency.”

.. This is not the first time an administration has challenged Mr. Comey’s version of a prominent conversation. During President George W. Bush’s administration, White House officials disputed Mr. Comey’s account of a hospital room standoff in which Mr. Bush’s top aides tried to pressure John D. Ashcroft, the ailing attorney general, to reauthorize a controversial surveillance program.

Mr. Comey, then the deputy attorney general, was eventually vindicated because the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept his notes from the encounter — a reminder that note-taking is steeped in the F.B.I. culture.

.. A couple of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Schiff and Representative Eric Swalwell of California, have said there is at least some evidence of collusion, but when Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked last week if there was, she said, “Not at this time.”