Se­cret Ser­vice un­aware of Trump-Comey tapes’ ex­is­tence

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY S.A. MILLER AND AN­DREA NO­BLE Dave Boyer con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice said Mon­day that it doesn’t have any tape record­ings from Pres­i­dent Trump in­side the White House, ac­cord­ing to a re­port, cast­ing doubt on the ex­is­tence of au­dio record­ings of the pres­i­dent’s con­ver­sa­tions be­fore he fired FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey.

The agency, which is re­spon­si­ble for record­ing sys­tems in­side the White House, made the rev­e­la­tion in re­sponse to a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest from The Wall Street Jour­nal. “There are no records per­tain­ing to your re­quest,” it said.

How­ever, the Se­cret Ser­vice kept the mys­tery alive by say­ing it could not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that an­other en­tity made the record­ings.

The prospect of Nixon-style tapes, which the pres­i­dent al­luded to in a cryptic tweet last month, has added to the cloud of in­trigue hang­ing over the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The tapes have been men­tioned in re­la­tion to ongoing con­gres­sional probes of Rus­sian tam­per­ing in the elec­tion and fu­eled ques­tions about whether the pres­i­dent in­ter­fered with the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion of al­leged Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion with Moscow.

White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer fended off a bar­rage of ques­tions about tapes at the daily press brief­ing. He re­fused to di­vulge de­tails about the pres­i­dent’s prom­ise last week that he would ad­dress the is­sue soon.

“He said he would an­swer that ques­tion in due time,” said Mr. Spicer. “He’s not wait­ing for any­thing. When he’s ready to fur­ther dis­cuss it, he will.”

Mr. Trump raised ques­tions about White House tapes in a post on Twit­ter last month in which he said Mr. Comey, whom he had just fired, was ly­ing about their con­ver­sa­tions. He said the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor “bet­ter hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our con­ver­sa­tions be­fore he starts leak­ing to the press!”

Mr. Trump said Fri­day that he would an­nounce soon whether there are tapes. He said the press would be dis­ap­pointed by his an­nounce­ment, rais­ing doubts about the ex­is­tence of au­dio record­ings.

In re­cent days Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey have pub­licly ac­cused each other of ly­ing about their con­ver­sa­tions and about each other.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Mr. Comey said Thurs­day dur­ing tes­ti­mony be­fore the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

The in­ter­est in the tapes mounted ahead of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions’ highly an­tic­i­pated tes­ti­mony Tues­day be­fore the same Se­nate com­mit­tee, where he will face sharp ques­tions about his role in fir­ing Mr. Comey, his con­tacts with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak and his de­ci­sion to re­cuse him­self form the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mr. Ses­sions also has had a strained re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Trump since he abruptly re­cused him­self from Jus­tice’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The fric­tion was so heated that Mr. Ses­sions re­port­edly of­fered to re­sign.

He re­quested to tes­tify in open ses­sion, ac­cord­ing to the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

“He be­lieves it is im­por­tant for the Amer­i­can peo­ple to hear the truth di­rectly from him,” said Jus­tice De­part­ment spokes­woman Sarah Is­gur Flores, end­ing spec­u­la­tion about whether his tes­ti­mony in the Rus­sia probe would be be­hind closed doors.

Mr. Comey’s tes­ti­mony last week sparked new the­o­ries about the rea­son for Mr. Ses­sions’ re­cusal from the Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which now is be­ing over­seen by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump had asked him dur­ing a pri­vate meet­ing to drop the probe into for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn, but he said he de­clined to tell the at­tor­ney gen­eral about the un­com­fort­able one-on-one in­ter­ac­tions be­cause FBI of­fi­cials ex­pected Mr. Ses­sions to be re­cused from all Rus­sia-re­lated is­sues “for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.”

Mr. Comey told sen­a­tors that there were rea­sons he couldn’t dis­cuss in an un­clas­si­fied set­ting what of­fi­cials be­lieved made Mr. Ses­sions’ “con­tin­ued en­gage­ment in a Rus­sia-re­lated in­ves­ti­ga­tion prob­lem­atic.”

Mr. Ses­sions, who was one of the first ma­jor Wash­ing­ton of­fice­hold­ers to sup­port Mr. Trump on the cam­paign trail, has said his in­volve­ment in the cam­paign was the sole rea­son he re­cused him­self from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sen­a­tors are also likely to have ques­tions for Mr. Ses­sions about his sup­port for the fir­ing of Mr. Comey. Mr. Trump re­port­edly de­cided to fire the FBI di­rec­tor over the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral had been sched­uled to tes­tify Tues­day about the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s bud­get be­fore the House and Se­nate ap­pro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tees, but de­cided in­stead to go be­fore the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, writ­ing to law­mak­ers that he felt it was the most ap­pro­pri­ate fo­rum.

The move an­gered Democrats on the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, who wanted to get a crack at Mr. Ses­sions.

Com­mit­tee Vice Chair­man Pa­trick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Demo­crat, and Jus­tice sub­com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Sen. Jeanne Sha­heen, New Hamp­shire Demo­crat, is­sued a joint state­ment ac­cus­ing Mr. Ses­sions of “at­tempt­ing to avoid over­sight.”

“We must not en­able the at­tor­ney gen­eral to avoid pub­lic scru­tiny by our com­mit­tee out of con­cern that such tes­ti­mony would be em­bar­rass­ing. That is ex­actly why our com­mit­tee’s over­sight func­tion and tra­di­tions are so im­por­tant,” they wrote.

De­spite re­ports of fric­tion be­tween Mr. Trump and his at­tor­ney gen­eral, Mr. Spicer said the pres­i­dent is look­ing for­ward to the tes­ti­mony.

“He be­lieves that the sooner we can get this ad­dressed and dealt with, that there’s been no col­lu­sion — he wants this to get in­ves­ti­gated as soon as pos­si­ble and be done with it so he can con­tinue with the busi­ness of the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” said Mr. Spicer.

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