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Trump Boasts Tapes Bluff Forced Comey’s Truthful Testimony

President calls Comey-Mueller friendship ‘very bothersome,’ special counsel probe ‘ridiculous’

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies Thursday during a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing. On Friday, President Trump declared feeling “total and complete vindication.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Former FBI Director James Comey testifies Thursday during a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing. On Friday, President Trump declared feeling “total and complete vindication.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Attempting to cast doubt over the Justice Department investigation of Russia’s election meddling and whether he obstructed justice, Donald Trump is calling the probe “ridiculous” and the close friendship of two men at its core “troublesome.”

What’s more, the president boasted that his May 12 tweet that raised the possibility he possessed recordings of his private talks with former FBI Director James Comey forced the onetime top cop to tell the truth earlier this month when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Trump had fired Comey three days earlier.)

Trump reiterated in a “Fox & Friends” interview aired Friday what he announced Thursday afternoon in a pair of tweets after Bloomberg reported he does not have tapes of Comey: “I didn’t tape him. … I don’t have any tapes.”

But just like with the Thursday tweets, Trump appeared eager to suggest some kind of record of an April Oval Office meeting and perhaps other conversations with Comey might exist.

“You never know what’s happening when you see the Obama administration — and perhaps longer than that — was doing all of this unmasking and surveillance,” the president said during the interview, taped Thursday at the White House. “I’ve been reading about … the seriousness and the horrible situation with surveillance all over the place. … So you never know what’s out there, but I didn’t tape.”

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Trump did not specify if he has been reading intelligence reports about those things, or getting his information from media outlets.

The president, with a wry grin, boasted openly about what turned out to be one of the most grandiose bluffs in U.S. presidential history.

When the friendly Fox News reporter called his now-infamous May 12 tweet, “smart,” Trump responded: “It wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.”

“He did admit that what I said was right,” the president said, apparently referring to Comey’s telling Trump he was not under direct investigation and that Trump never overtly threatened to oust him over the Russia probe.

“When he found out there may be tapes out there — whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows — I think his story may have changed,” Trump said of their private conversations. “Then he has to tell what actually took place at the events. My story didn’t change. My story was always a straight story.”

While Trump took credit for what he cast as Comey’s truthful testimony in the Fox interview, but days after it, during a June 9 Rose Garden news conference, Trump said “Some of the things that he said [before the Senate panel] just weren’t true.”

For his part, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee he felt he was fired in large part because he refused to drop an FBI probe into possible nefarious ties between Russian officials and Trump’s campaign adviser and first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Comey also testified that another factor in his termination was his declining to lift what Trump, during private phone conversations, described as the “cloud” of the bureau’s Russia probe hanging over his presidency that was making it difficult for him to govern.

But more broadly than his bluff, Trump also tried to sow seeds of doubt around special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In his latest remarkable and provocative comments, Trump was critical of Mueller’s friendship with Comey. Ironically, the president’s decision to fire Comey followed by the threatening tweet paved the way for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Muller, himself a former FBI director, to lead the DOJ probe.

The president would not rule out Mueller’s need to recuse himself from the investigation because he is close friends with Comey, who is at the center of DOJ’s reported obstruction probe of Trump.

“He’s very very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said. “We’re going to have to see.”

The president repeated his claim that “there has been no obstruction, there has been collusion” with Russia, and he bemoaned that “there has been leaking by Comey.” (The former FBI chief had a friend deliver a memo about an April conversation with Trump to the New York Times.)

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Trump also slammed some of Mueller’s hires, saying “all” supported his 2016 presidential election foe Hillary Clinton.

“The whole thing is ridiculous, if you want to know the truth, from that standpoint,” he told Fox.

He also intimated that Mueller should consider stepping aside, making an incredible situation even more so.

“Robert Mueller is an honorable man,” Trump said, “and hopefully he’ll come up with an honorable solution.”