Friday morning, President Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Today, both Sean Spicer and President Trump himself refused to confirm or deny if the president had any secret recordings of those conversations. Spicer said, “I’ve talked to the president, and he doesn’t have anything to add to that.” In an interview with Jeanine Pirro, Trump said, “I can’t talk about that, I won’t talk about that.”
If Trump does have a secret taping system in the Oval Office – and if he didn’t, either Trump or Spicer could have answered with a simple “there is no recording system” – this is an absurd self-sabotage of the president’s own interests. The entire concept of a president’s executive privilege rests on the idea that the president needs the best, most honest, most unvarnished advice and information possible – even if that advice would be controversial or unpopular. The thinking is that if an advisor, member of Congress, foreign leader or other official knew that their communications with the president could be made public someday, they would self-censor themselves and give less than the full truth. As NPR notes, in its ruling on the Nixon tapes, the Supreme Court noted “the valid need for protection of communications between high government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.”
Starting today, anyone who talks to Trump has to wonder if that conversation is being recorded, and whether Trump might someday leak that recording if he gets sufficiently angry at that person. Best to not say anything to the president that you’re not comfortable seeing attached to your name in print.