President Trump said Thursday he didn’t make any tape recordings of his conversations with James B. Comey, after raising the possibility last month that he might have tapes that would discredit the fired FBI director.
It turned out to be a presidential bluff.
But Mr. Trump didn’t rule out that someone else could have listened to their Oval Office conversations without his knowledge.
“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea … whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” he tweeted.
The president’s acknowledgment, after weeks of the White House ducking questions about the existence of tapes, appeared to put to rest speculation that Mr. Trump himself had prompted with a post on Twitter shortly after he fired Mr. Comey. He had questioned Mr. Comey’s truthfulness after the former FBI director accused the president of demanding his loyalty and of leaning on him to “let go” of an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Mr. Trump wrote on May 12.
Asked by lawmakers at a Senate hearing this month about the president’s warning, Mr. Comey said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
As is often the case with the president’s tweets, White House aides would not elaborate on Mr. Trump’s tweets on Thursday.
“The president’s statement via Twitter is extremely clear,” said deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “I don’t have anything to add to the statement.”
She did say that she doesn’t believe Mr. Trump had been trying to intimidate Mr. Comey, nor did she think the president was concerned that the White House might be under surveillance. She said the president was keeping his promise to give an answer by the end of this week on whether tapes existed.
Congressional investigators also had set a deadline of Friday for the White House to turn over any tapes. The House Intelligence Committee had asked for information about whether recordings existed as part of its probe into Russian meddling in the election.
The president is said to have been amused at all the speculation caused by his original tweet on May 12 about the possibility of tapes. Asked by The Washington Times at a June 9 press conference whether tapes existed, Mr. Trump replied coyly, “I’ll tell you about that maybe sometime in the near future.”
He added at the time, “You’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don’t worry.”
At the White House daily press briefing Thursday, a reporter noted that Mr. Trump had allowed speculation about tapes to go on for 41 days, and asked Ms. Sanders, “Why the game? What was he doing?”
“I don’t know there was a game,” Mrs. Sanders replied. “He’s answered the question. He said by the end of this week and he’s done that.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, said he thinks the president was essentially playing a psychological game with Mr. Comey by suggesting there might be recordings of their conversations.
“I think he was, in his way, instinctively trying to rattle Comey,” Mr. Gingrich told The Associated Press. “He’s not a professional politician. He doesn’t come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: ‘I’ll outbluff you.’”
But the bluff may have caused the president more headaches.
Mr. Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that, after he read Mr. Trump’s May 12 tweet about the possibility of tapes, he determined to leak to the media through a friend memos he’d written about his conversations with the president. Those memos, which outlined Mr. Comey’s assertion that the president had pressured him to back off of an investigation, helped to prompt the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Mr. Comey’s firing and the possible collusion of Mr. Flynn and other Trump campaign officials with Russia’s meddling in the presidential election.
Asked by an NBC reporter whether Mr. Trump regrets that his original tweet about tapes may have led to Mr. Mueller investigating the president for obstruction of justice, Ms. Sanders replied, “I don’t think so.”
“I certainly think that the president would hope that the former director would tell the truth,” Ms. Sanders said of the original tweet. “But I think that it was more about raising the question of doubt in general.”
• Dave Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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