WASHINGTON ― In his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, former FBI director James Comey made it clear that if any tapes exist of his conversations with President Donald Trump, they would be tremendously important.
After firing Comey, Trump appeared to suggest he had taped his conversations with the then-FBI director. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” the president tweeted on May 12.
Comey doesn’t fear the possibility that such tapes exist. Rather, he hopes they’re out there somewhere, because they could back up his story that Trump leaned on him to end the FBI’s investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey exclaimed early in Thursday’s hearing, to general delight on social media. “If there are tapes, it’s not just my word against [Trump’s] on the direction to get rid of the Flynn investigation.”
The White House denies that Trump leaned on Comey to end the Flynn investigation, and won’t say whether a taping system exists. But as Comey suggested, any such tapes could be central to special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Russia matter and Trump’s campaign. Comey said Thursday that he is “sure” Mueller is also investigating whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
To obtain any tapes that might exist, Mueller would have to subpoena them from the White House. This would be very similar to the events that precipitated the downfall of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate investigation.
After it was revealed that Nixon made secret tapes of his conversations in the White House, Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the investigating congressional committee issued subpoenas to obtain them. Nixon’s White House refused to comply with the subpoenas. Ultimately, Nixon decided to fire Cox. His attorney general and deputy attorney general chose to resign rather than carry out that order.
A newly appointed special prosecutor reordered the subpoena, which Nixon only partially complied with. The prosecutor then appealed to the Supreme Court for Nixon to fully comply with the subpoena. Nixon tried to claim executive privilege to prevent the release of the full tapes, but the court ruled 8-0 that he had to turn all of them over.
Three days later, the House Judiciary Committee began affirmatively voting on articles of impeachment against Nixon. The president resigned two weeks later.