Washington: Ending a month-long guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy, President Donald Trump declared he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.
"With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information," Trump tweeted on Thursday, he has "no idea" whether there are "tapes" or recordings of the two men's conversations.
But he proclaimed "I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."
That left open the possibility that recordings were made without his knowledge or by someone else.
But he largely appeared to close the saga that began in May, just days after he fired Comey, then the head of an investigation into Trump associates' ties to Russian officials. Trump has disputed Comey's version of a January dinner during which the director said the president had asked for a pledge of loyalty.
Trump responded at that time, via Twitter, that Comey "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
That apparently angry missive triggered a series of consequences, each weightier than the last. Comey has suggested that the tweet prompted him to ask an associate to release damaging information to the media.
The resulting news reports built pressure on a top Justice Department official to appoint an independent prosecutor to oversee the Russia investigation.
That special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, is now reportedly investigating Trump's own actions in a probe that could dog his presidency for the foreseeable future. Trump showed concern about that situation as well, telling Fox News Channel in an interview that Mueller is "very, very good friends with Comey which is bothersome."
In that interview that aired Friday morning on "Fox & Friends," Trump also suggested a motivation behind the tapes tweet.
"When he found out that I, you know, that 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. "I mean you'll have to take a look at that, because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events."
Trump added: "And my story didn't change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth."
Trump's declaration now that there are no recordings appears to settle a key dynamic in that investigation: It's now the president's word against Comey's notes.
Without recordings, Comey's version of his conversations with Trump — which he documented at the time, shared with close associates and testified about to Congress will likely play a key role as prosecutors consider whether Trump inappropriately pressured the lawman to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Investigators will also weigh the credibility of Comey against a president who has shown a wobbly commitment to accuracy.
Trump's tweets, old and new, left many perplexed about whether there was motive or strategy behind the whole affair. The president appeared to enjoy ginning up mystery and spinning Washington reporters about the possibility there was a trove of surreptitiously recorded Oval Office conversations.
"I think he was in his way instinctively trying to rattle Comey," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump confidant, said before the Thursday tweets.
"He's not a professional politician. He doesn't come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: 'I'll out-bluff you.'"
Updated Date: Jun 23, 2017 18:48:23 IST