It has been 41 days since President Trump first suggested that he might have taped conversations with the former FBI director in the Oval Office. He first floated the idea on Twitter, and he returned to that medium Thursday afternoon to say that if there are tapes, he didn’t create them and doesn’t have them.
Why Trump decided to make this type of news within just a few hours of the Senate Republicans unveiling their health care plan is unclear. But what is clear is why Trump was in a hurry to make the announcement.
First, Trump faced a Friday deadline. The House Intelligence Committee gave the White House until tomorrow to either turn over the tapes or acknowledge there weren’t any. Ever since Trump first suggested there were recordings, the official White House line has been to neither confirm nor deny that they exist. For the most part, they have just prolonged the intrigue by saying that there would be more news later on that front.
Had the White House counsel simply and quietly told the House Intelligence Committee that there weren’t tapes, someone in Congress would probably get to announce the news instead of Trump. And for a president who likes to be talked about, what is the fun in that?
Still, the House committee didn’t serve the White House a subpoena. Trump wasn’t actually required to make an announcement this week or even this month. But the truth is this faux-controversy had outlived its purpose.
When Trump originally tweeted on the topic, it was a jab that appeared to be directed squarely at James Comey. Trump had fired Comey three days earlier, and his tweet came just after a New York Times story reporting that Trump asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty.
The purpose of the initial tweet, a Trump aide told Bloomberg, was “strategic . . . to ensure that Comey told the truth.”
Comey has since testified under oath for hours in front of a Senate panel. Any intimidation that Trump was trying to give to Comey is irrelevant now.
The exact timing might have seemed odd, but for the Trump administration, the time had come to end the intrigue.James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.