|Insecurity quotes, via Ben Yagoda for Lingua Franca.|
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Ben Jacobs, for instance, comments at the Guardian
The tweet, which if taken at face value would suggest Trump has been secretly taping White House meetings, came after the New York Times reported that he demanded “loyalty” from Comey in a private dinner held shortly after Trump took office.The thing is, why on earth would you take it at face value? Trump said it FFS! And he pulled out his insecurity quotes, as with "wiretapping" in March, showing that he isn't himself confident that he's managed to say what he means.
Trump literally doesn't know whether his conversations in the White House are being recorded on tape or some new-fangled method, or rather he knows it wouldn't be tape but doesn't want to get caught not knowing what it is because the servants have been taking care of such things for him for years, so that decades of technological change have simply bypassed his brain. He doesn't know whether they are being recorded by somebody or not.
He certainly doesn't have the kind of system he supposedly rigged at Mar-a-Lago ten or fifteen years ago, where he could eavesdrop from his bedroom on conversations over every landline phone on the estate with a console installed in his bedroom, unless the console was just for making internal calls (the original Buzzfeed reporting is here), but it didn't include a recording system anyway, if it existed. Marc Fisher writes in the Washington Post that "Trump has a long history of secretly recording calls, according to former associates," according to the headline writer, but the article doesn't bear that out. The only specific allegation in the text is the assertion of a single former associate, Jack O'Donnell, who managed the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City from 1987 to 1990, who told Fisher "Talking on the phone with Donald was a public experience. You never knew who else was listening." But O'Donnell's book, Trumped!: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump—His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall, doesn't say anything about recording, though it does tell us that Ivana's office had a monitor with a feed from the parking garage security cameras so she could tell if any executives were showing up to work late. (I spent $3.99 on the Kindle for that fact.) What I see is a pervasive culture of eavesdropping, suspicion, and disrespect for other people's privacy, but nothing as systematic as a Nixonian archive.
Fisher is a little more convincing on the question of whether recordings could actually be made in the current White House:
It's not likely the dinner with Comey was recorded in that way, with a video crew, and I doubt the phone calls are retrievable either. But the VoIP system in question, which actually dates back to 2007—it's just the physical telephones that were replaced in 2011—is not used for anything like all the president's calls:
the Executive Voice over Secure IP-network, which connects the president with all major decision makers, like the secretaries of State, Defense and Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence.Because you can only use the president's special VoIP if the person on the other side of the conversation has the same software, just as with a commonplace VoIP like Skype. And I have a feeling that that would not include Comey, or any FBI director, whose independence from the executive is such, as we learned last week, that he doesn't even talk to the DNI about what he's doing, let alone the president, but who knows.
I can tell you who doesn't know, and that's Donald J. Trump. He may suspect on and off—he may have heard from one of his radio lunatics like Alex Jones or Mark Levin—that somebody else is recording him, that the mysterious cabal frustrating all of his desires is monitoring him, or has put a "tapp" on his telephone, but he doesn't take it seriously enough to change his behavior. Comey himelf knows better than Trump whether any audio exists.
The other thing—and I can't say whether he understands that or not either—is that if he really did ask the FBI director, in a private situation, as he claims whether he was the subject of an investigation, and there's a recording of it, that recording is evidence of obstruction of justice on his part, especially if he asked, as he claims, three times—suggesting Comey refused to tell him at least twice. One thing I'm pretty sure he's not lying about is that part, his side of the conversation. But if the interaction was as Comey describes it, the story of Trump's trying to shake down the FBI director for a loyalty oath like a Mafia Donald, which is no doubt the case (he can be an officious fool, as we saw in his mishandling of the Clinton email investigation, but he tells the truth), Trump's attempt to obstruct justice was even worse.
But getting back to the tweet, it's another case of lying or bullshit. It's a mistake to suppose he meant to "warn" Comey of anything. He's not even talking to Comey; he's talking, as he virtually always is, to the "fake media" he hates so much and whose approbation he longs for so fervently, and the real message isn't that Comey has something to fear, but that Trump has nothing to hide. Which is unquestionably false.
If there is tape, it will vindicate the ex-director (as he's said), and condemn the Emperor. I think it's almost certain that there isn't any. Which is not to say Democrats shouldn't keep asking to see it—they should, to keep the pressure on and the story alive! But you really need to keep constantly in mind with Trump that he isn't trying to tell you something corresponding directly to the words, he's trying to position himself in Fox's and CNN's eyes.