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Trump is threatening to release secret Comey “tapes” and cancel press briefings

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Friday morning, President Trump took to Twitter to launch a series of bizarre complaints — beginning with the allegation that the entire Russia issue was fabricated, veering into threats to cancel the White House press briefing, and culminating with a claim that he had secret “tapes” of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.

All in all, it was a worrying series of statements from the president at a time of national crisis.

The tweets started at a little before 8 am EST, with the Russia investigation:

We know this not to be true — not only from the mountains of evidence and the fact that Russia ties got Trump’s first pick for national security adviser canned, but also because interim FBI Director Andrew McCabe said in Congressional testimony on Thursday that the investigation was “highly significant.”

All this the day after Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of the “made-up” Russia investigation.

Trump also made an explicit threat to cancel the daily White House press briefings, one of the main ways the press has been able to hold the Trump administration accountable for its fairly confused and often false public messages:

It’s worth noting that Trump is not, by historic standards, a very busy president — having accomplished very little in terms of significant legislation in his first 100 days in office. When my colleague Sean Illing asked presidential historian H.W. Brands to evaluate Trump’s performance, he said that “very little has been done.”

The more fundamental issue, rather, is that Trump’s surrogates at the briefing have continually embarrassed him. With press secretary Sean Spicer out doing Naval Reserve duty (lucky for him!), deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been doing his job for the past two days. Sanders, like Spicer, has repeatedly stepped in it — outright telling the press yesterday that the point of firing Comey was to end the Russia investigation, directly undermining the White House line.

The crown jewel in the president’s tweetstorm was literally Nixonian:

A few questions here:

  1. These tapes are almost certainly not real, right?
  2. Is the president saying he was secretly recording his conversations with the FBI director — at a time when his actions are already being compared to Nixon’s during Watergate? Why would he do that?
  3. If Trump wasn’t recording Comey, who does he think might have been doing it?
  4. Why is the word “tapes” in quotes?

All in all, it’s just an absolutely stunning series of things to say. At a time when people are legitimately worried about the implications of the president canning the FBI director for investigating him for American democracy, the president is going on a tirade that sounds like a parody of a petty authoritarian’s fumings.

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