WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump confirmed that there are no recordings of his conversations with ousted FBI Director James Comey, nearly six weeks after he implied that there were.
In the time that has passed since he tweeted that Comey “better hope there are no ‘tapes,'” the President’s spokespeople have refused to elaborate on his statement or give reporters a straight answer about whether tapes existed, even though several agencies told CNN they were not aware of any recording devices in the Oval Office.
Now the White House will likely be asked to explain why the President manufactured a claim in hopes of intimidating the FBI director he fired.
Here is a timeline of how the tapes narrative unfolded:
May 11, 2017
The New York Times reported on details of Trump’s dinner with Comey, including that he asked for a pledge of loyalty.
May 12, 2017
Trump tweets: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
May 12, 2017
At the briefing that same day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer refused to elaborate on the President’s tweet.
“I’ve talked to the President. The President has nothing further to add on that.” “As I mentioned, the President has nothing further to add on that.” “As I’ve said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.” “I don’t think — that’s not a threat. He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.”
In that same briefing, Spicer was asked if Trump is recording conversations in the Oval Office.
“I think the point that I made with respect to the tweet is the President has no further comment on this,” he said.
May 15, 2017
Spicer reiterated in a daily briefing that he has nothing to add on whether tapes exist:
“I think I made it clear last week that the President has nothing further on that.” “I said — I was very clear that the President would have nothing further on that last week.”
During this briefing, Spicer said Trump “made it clear” what his position on the existence of tapes was.
“I’ve answered that several times,” Spicer said. “So that’s his position. He said that he has nothing further to add.”
May 17, 2017
Spicer is asked again by a reporter about the existence of recordings: “So do you have any evidence to back up, like, what — is it just that the President says that this didn’t happen, this conversation didn’t happen? Or is there any recording or … ”
Spicer said: “This is not — the President has been very clear that this is not an accurate representation of that meeting.”
A follow-up question is asked: “Are we just corroborating that based on his words, though? I mean, he said in a tweet about tapes last week — are there records, transcripts of those conversations?”
Spicer responded: “I think we’ve been clear about that. I think we’ve been very — we put out a statement regarding that.”
June 8, 2017
Former FBI Director James Comey testified that he “hopes there are tapes” during his Senate intelligence committee hearing.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey said. “Again, maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance. That’s how I conducted myself. I hope I never have another opportunity, maybe if I did it again I would do it better.”
June 8, 2017
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders joked she will “look under the couches” for listening devices.
“Once again, I will refer you to remarks that Marc Kasowitz will make at the conclusion of the hearing on all matters regarding Mr. Comey’s testimony today,” Sanders said during a daily briefing.
Asked to definitively say if there is a taping system in the White House, Sanders said: “I have no idea.”
“Again, I’m not sure, that’s not something I can answer. You might check with Secret Service, if you’re asking from a security standpoint.” “I would refer you to Secret Service, particularly given the nature of your question is about the security of the White House. I would imagine Secret Service is not usually big on discussing the security of the White House, but I would refer you to them on that question.” “I’ll try to look under the couches.”
June 9, 2017
The President was asked about the tapes during a news conference in the Rose Garden with the Romanian President.
“I’m not hinting anything,” Trump said. “I’ll tell you about it over a very short period of time.”
A reporter asked: “When will you tell us about the recordings?”
“Over a fairly short period of time — oh, you’re going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer. Don’t worry,” Trump said.
June 11, 2017
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told ABC’s ‘This Week” that the President will address the tapes “next week.”
“The President said he is going to address the issue of the tapes, whether the tapes exist or not, next week,” Sekulow said. “That’s a decision that the president will make in consultation with his chief personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz, and that the president said he’ll address it next week.”
June 15, 2017
Sanders referred a question about the tapes to the outside counsel.
“I know this is in reference to the Comey conversations and I would refer you to the outside counsel for that,” Sanders said.
“I’m talking about specific questions regarding that. You could ask them, but I believe the President intends to make it clear at some point. But in terms of questions that you’re asking regarding that matter, you’d have to ask outside counsel.”
When asked if an announcement would happen “this week” like Sekulow said, Sanders said, “Again, I would refer to them. If they said it will happen this week, then assume it does.”
June 19, 2017
Mark Corallo, the spokesman for Trump’s outside counsel, referred a question about the tapes back to the White House.
“As for the ‘tapes,’ I’m afraid that’s a White House matter,” he said.
June 19, 2017
Spicer, during an off-camera briefing, referred a reporter’s question about the tapes to Trump’s answer in the Rose Garden on June 9.
“I just said, the President, I believe it was in the two-and-two, said that he would have an answer shortly,” Spicer said. “That would probably mean by the end of this week.”
Spicer added that an answer will come by the end of the week.
“I do not have a specific answer to that, but I will tell you I believe the President will comment in the next couple of weeks. So it’s possible that we have an answer to that by the end of this week,” he said.
June 20, 2017
Spicer said during a daily briefing he expected an announcement to happen this week.
“The President has said that he will make an announcement on this,” Spicer said. “I expect it this week. And so when he’s ready to make that announcement we’ll let you know. How’s that?”
June 21, 2017
White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told reporters on Air Force One that “there will be something this week” on tapes.
“In terms of the Comey tapes, I don’t have anything further than what Sean had, other than I can tell you there will be something this week,” Walters said.
June 22, 2017
Newt Gingrich says Trump was bluffing in order to “rattle Comey”
“I think he was in his way instinctively trying to rattle Comey,” 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.’ “