The Comey ‘tapes’: Trump’s big bluff
“Thanks for wasting our time, Mr. President,” said Becket Adams in the Washington Examiner. Six weeks after hinting that he’d surreptitiously recorded his chats with former FBI boss James Comey, President Trump has finally admitted that he was bluffing. The charade began just days after Trump fired Comey, when anonymous sources told The New York Times that in January the president had requested Comey’s loyalty. “Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations,” Trump wrote on Twitter soon after. But when Congress demanded the tapes, Trump caved, tweeting last week, “I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.” If this was “all a ham-fisted attempt to intimidate Comey into silence, it didn’t work.” The ruse prompted the former FBI chief to release his own detailed notes on his meetings with Trump—in which he claims the president pressured him to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. And it led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
“Of course there were no tapes,” said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Trump supporters, I suspect, knew all along the president was bluffing, but they enjoyed watching Trump take the media and one of the nation’s top lawmen for a ride. And somehow, Trump has managed to gild his tall tale “as a moral victory.” Speaking to Fox News, the president said he’d tweeted about tapes to make sure Comey would be honest when he testified before Congress, and admit what he’d told Trump three times in private—that he was not a target of the FBI’s Russia investigation. Trump did what prosecutors do all the time: trick “a witness into telling the truth,” said Alan Dershowitz in TheHill.com. Yet anti-Trump zealots now accuse the president of witness intimidation, making a crime “out of the most innocent behavior.”
Criminal or not, Trump’s bluff has “real-world consequences,” said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. It confirms the suspicion of America’s adversaries “that the president’s tough words are hollow talk.” North Koreans will remember his threats of retaliation after their missile tests, and the lack of action that followed. The Chinese will remember his anti-Beijing rhetoric during the campaign, and how he retreated from those words during meetings with Presid ent Xi Jinping. “Trump showed the world that when he sweats, he panics”—a lesson our planet’s bad actors won’t forget.