President Donald Trump admitted Thursday he actually doesn’t have recordings of his private conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, putting to rest a weeks-long controversy entirely of his own making.
Trump kicked off the frenzy in May, just a few days after he abruptly fired Comey. Anticipating the ousted official would soon share his side of the story, Trump hinted he had “tapes” of their meetings that should make Comey think twice about what he says publicly.
Despite calls from both sides of the aisle to release any such recordings, Trump and his staff played coy. White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly refused to say whether recordings existed, while deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn’t say if a recording system even exists in the White House.
Trump himself teased the matter as something he would reveal to the public “in the very near future.”
But as pressure grew for Trump to release recordings if they exist — including from the House intelligence committee, which is investigating potential collusion between Trump’s campaign associates and Russian officials to influence the 2016 election — the president finally admitted Thursday that he doesn’t have any tapes.
“I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” he tweeted.
Beyond hurting his credibility, the May tweet undeniably made the Russia investigation worse for himself — it directly contributed to the appointment of a special prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to oversee the case.
As Comey revealed while testifying before the Senate intelligence committee earlier this month, Trump’s tweet prompted him to leak details of his meetings with the president to the New York Times.
“My judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square, and so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter,” Comey explained.
Comey also said he had a specific goal in mind when leaking his detailed memos about their conversations.
“I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel,” he said.
That’s exactly what happened, one day after the New York Times reported on Comey’s memos.
It’s just the latest example of Trump finding himself in a mess of his own making. In just five months as president, he’s also tweeted his way into courts blocking his executive orders, raised credibility-damaging theories about voter fraud and whether Trump Tower was wiretapped by the previous administration and prompted questions of whether he obstructed justice.
Here’s a look at some other self-inflicted Trump controversies.
His first days in office were overshadowed by his boasts over his inauguration crowd size.
As photos at the time clearly showed, there simply weren’t as many people at Trump’s inauguration as there had been at previous ceremonies on the National Mall. Nevertheless, Trump boasted of his “record” crowd size, claiming his was the best-attended in history. While this was a flagrant lie, Spicer spent his first press briefing room appearance defending the claim and accusing the press of misrepresenting the truth.
The whole matter overshadowed the president’s first week in office, as the White House scrambled to defend the claim, regardless of the facts. (White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s now-infamous claim of “alternative facts” was born during this controversy.)
His own tweets and comments helped lead courts to block his travel ban.
Multiple courts considering Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries cited the president’s tweets while arguing that the ban is unconstitutional.
“[T]he President recently confirmed his assessment that it is the ‘countries’ that are inherently dangerous, rather than the 180 million individual nationals of those countries who are barred from entry under the President’s ‘travel ban,’” read a ruling the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit handed down earlier this month, citing a Trump tweet.
Trump’s words also helped lead a court to block his order attempting to cut off federal funding for so-called “sanctuary” cities. In that ruling, handed down in April, a federal judge cited past Trump comments to illustrate the true intent of the order.
He fired Comey in part because of the Russia probe, which in turn added fuel to the investigation.
Firing Comey arguably made the Russia investigation much worse for Trump. The move prompted calls from both sides of the aisle for an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. And as Trump himself told NBC News’ Lester Holt, he considered “this Russia thing” when deciding to terminate the FBI director, further raising questions about whether Trump was interfering with the investigation by firing the man leading it.
Trump also made the investigation worse for himself in several ways. According to Comey, he suggested the FBI end its investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to the president and urged him to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. All of those allegations, which Comey laid out in his Senate testimony, have raised the possibility that Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
He made unfounded claims about voter fraud and whether former President Barack Obama surveilled his Manhattan residence — both of which hurt his credibility.
While Trump’s short tenure has so far been marked by hundreds of falsehoods, there are two unsupported claims that have stood out as the most potentially damaging to his credibility.
The first is his assertion that millions of non-citizens voted in the 2016 election.
While there is no evidence to support that claim, there’s now a White House commission investigating it. That audit was recently scaled back due to a lack of funding.
The second is his unsubstantiated claim that Obama’s administration wiretapped Trump Tower.
While intelligence agencies and congressional investigators said no such wiretapping happened, Trump repeatedly stood by the claim until abruptly distancing himself from it in May.