USA TODAY - White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday he was not aware of any recordings of conversations between FBI director James Comey and President Trump, even as he insisted the president's early morning tweet speaks for itself.
During a Friday morning tweetstorm, the president appeared to imply that there are tapes of his private conversations with Comey, who Trump fired earlier this week.
In the tweet, Trump also warned Comey about leaking to the press: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
Spicer declined to answer repeated questions from reporters about whether Trump tapes his phone calls or conversations with others, including inside the Oval Office – or whether there were recording devices in the room during the meeting with Comey.
"There's nothing further to add on that," he said.
In a letter sent to the White House, House Democrats called for the release of any tapes and recorded communications between Trump and Comey.
"Under normal circumstances, we would not consider credible any claims that the White House may have taped conversations of meetings with the president," they wrote. "However, because of the many false statements made by White House officials this week, we are compelled to ask whether any such recordings do in fact exist. If so, we request copies of all recordings in possession of the White House regarding this matter."
Spicer also said Trump's tweet this morning was not actually meant as a threat to Comey not to speak to the media. "That’s not a threat. The tweet speaks for itself," Spicer said.
Giving more details about Trump's meetings with Comey, Spicer said Trump was seeking assurances from the FBI director that he wasn't under investigation because he wanted to fight back against "the narrative" building around the Russia story.
Disputing the basis of the Russia investigation, Spicer said, "There's no collusion that occurred."
In fact, Trump wants investigators to get to the bottom of Russian involvement in the election, Spicer said, including debunking the "false narrative" that the Trump campaign was somehow involved.
Spicer also denied reports that Trump solicited a loyalty pledge from Comey during their dinner earlier this year.
A New York Times report – one that may have inspired Friday's tweet — said Comey declined to make such a pledge. "Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not 'reliable' in the conventional political sense," the Times reported.
Friday marked Spicer's first appearance at the podium since the firing of Comey.
The briefing began with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster discussing the president's upcoming trip to the Middle East and Europe, despite threats from President Trump earlier in the day threatening to cancel press briefings in the face of fallout from Comey's dismissal.
"As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!" Trump tweeted. "Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???"
Spicer did not dispute Trump's suggestion that press briefings should be canceled, saying only, "I think he's a little dismayed" by the media coverage.
In a striking reversal one day earlier, Trump told NBC News that he planned to fire Comey even before meeting with top-ranking Justice Department officials and soliciting their recommendations on his performance. "I was going to fire regardless of (their) recommendation," Trump said in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt, calling Comey a "showboat" and "grandstander" who led the agency into turmoil.
He also specifically brought up the ongoing Russia investigation. "In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself – I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story," Trump told NBC. "It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won."
These reasons contradicted the White House's assertions — and even the widely disseminated termination letter Trump sent Comey — that the dismissal was based on the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who criticized Comey's handling of the email investigation into Hillary Clinton last year.
Spicer called the coverage of changing stories behind Comey's dismissal miss the point.
"It's always the president's decision," Spicer said.
The White House Correspondents Association objected to Trump's threat. Shutting down news briefings, the association said in a statement, "would reduce accountability, transparency, and the opportunity for Americans to see that, in the U.S. system, no political figure is above being questioned."
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