Sunday, 5 December 2021

Trump warns James Comey to choose words carefully

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NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump warned James Comey, the former FBI director he fired this week, against James-Comeyleaking anything negative about the president and put the news media on notice that he may cancel future White House briefings. In a series of early-morning posts on Twitter, Trump even seemed to suggest that there may be secret tapes of his conversations with Comey that could be used to counter the former FBI director if necessary. It was not immediately clear whether he meant that literally or simply hoped to intimidate Comey into silence.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote on Twitter. Trump appeared agitated over news reports on Friday (Saturday AEST) that focused on contradictory accounts of his decision to fire Comey at the same time the FBI is investigating ties between Trump’s associates and Russia.

In a dinner shortly after his inauguration, Trump asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him, which the FBI director refused to do. The story cited two people who heard Comey describe the dinner but the White House rebutted the account. The president also expressed pique at attention on the shifting versions of how he came to decide to fire Comey. In his first extended comments on the firing Thursday, Trump contradicted statements made by his White House spokeswoman as well as comments made to reporters by Vice President Mike Pence and even the letter the president himself signed and sent to Comey informing him of his dismissal.

The original White House version of the firing was that the president acted on the recommendation of the attorney general and deputy attorney general because of Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. But in an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Trump said he had already decided to fire Comey and would have done so regardless of any recommendation. And he indicated that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made the decision.

Trump said Friday morning that no one should expect his White House to give completely accurate information. “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” he wrote on Twitter.

“Maybe,” he added a few moments later, “the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
The threat may have been just a rhetorical point, but Trump by his own description likes to be unpredictable and does not feel obligated to follow long-standing White House conventions simply because that is the way things have been done for years. Every president in modern times has been frustrated with the news media at points, but they all preserved the tradition of the daily briefing, if for no other reason than to get their message out. Trump, with Twitter as his own trumpet, may feel less need for that.

Trump’s familiar playbook

There is already precedent for shutting down news briefings during Trump’s presidency. The State Department for decades held daily briefings with only rare and brief interruptions in a process that was important not only to inform reporters of administration policy, but foreign governments and even the department’s own far-flung diplomats. But such briefings have largely ended during the Trump administration.

Trump has long been said by allies and former employees to have taped some of his own phone calls, as well as meetings in his Trump Tower offices. During the campaign, Trump’s aides working on the fifth floor of Trump Tower told reporters they feared their offices were bugged by the candidate’s security team, and they were careful about what they said.
But the implicit threat to Comey was ripped from a familiar playbook that Trump relied on during the campaign to silence critics or dissent. During the Republican primaries, he read aloud the mobile telephone number of one rival, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, from the stage at a rally and encouraged people to flood his phone with calls.

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