Trump’s ‘Tapes’ Were a Bluff to Force James Comey to Tell the Whole Truth

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President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that he had not recorded his conversations with former FBI director James Comey before firing him.

The media are portraying Trump’s new “admission” as a failure. But in fact, Trump’s bluff has been a tactical win for the president, for two reasons.

First and foremost, Trump’s bluff forced Comey to confirm publicly — on his own volition — Trump’s claim that Comey had, indeed, told the president on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation.

The media hilariously predicted, wrongly, that Comey would say otherwise, based on “sources.” Indeed, Comey could have said he did not recall telling the president that. But with the possibility of “tapes” looming, he had to make an admission to protect the broader credibility of his effort to damage the president through his testimony to the Senate.

So Comey confirmed Trump’s claim — in his written testimony to the Senate, rather than being forced to concede the truth in more dramatic fashion in open testimony. In other words, Trump bluffed Comey into volunteering information that he was right.

Second, assuming there really are no recordings, Trump avoids the politically treacherous question of whether to exert executive privilege to keep them under wraps. He would have been entitled to do so, especially as there was no wrongdoing to conceal. But the “Watergate” analogy the media have been trying to draw for months would have fed on the prospect of a battle over executive privilege, which is what eventually brought Richard Nixon down.

Trump chose to make his revelation on Twitter — the same place he made the initial suggestion of “tapes.” The reason: Friday, June 23 is the deadline the House Intelligence Committee gave Trump to provide the tapes. (Comey is bound by the same deadline to turn over all of his memoranda about his conversations with the president.)

Over two tweets, Trump said: “With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are “tapes” or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

Last month, after Comey’s accounts of his conversations with the president began leaking to the New York Times, Trump tweeted: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Pressed by the media to confirm the existence of “tapes,” and under pressure from Congress to share whatever “tapes” existed, Trump kept journalists guessing.

Earlier his month, Trump was coy about the “tapes” when asked about them at a press conference: “I’ll tell you about it over a very short period of time….Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don’t worry.”

(Some are still guessing, since Trump did not rule out the possibility that tapes might exist.)

 

The reasons Trump anticipated the media’s “disappointment” is now evident. Trump’s “tapes” were a poker bluff, plain and simple, designed to force his opponent to show his hand. And it was a gamble that worked, because Comey’s hand turned out to be rather weak.

In the process, however, Trump raised the stakes considerably. Comey reacted to Trump’s tweet by leaking his memos of their conversations to the Times, intending to trigger the appointment of a special counsel — and succeeding.

And so whether Trump’s bluff turns out to be a winning move remains to be seen.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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