- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2017

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.”

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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.

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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.

Earlier in the day Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions appeared to have patched up their differences at their first public meeting together in weeks. They appeared cordial and expressed mutual praise.

“It’s great to be here and celebrate this group,” Mr. Sessions said at the president’s first full Cabinet meeting.

The attorney general updated the Cabinet on the Justice Department’s efforts to reach out to law enforcement agencies and give them more support from Washington than was the perception during the Obama administration.

“They are so thrilled that we have a new idea that we’re going to support them and work together to properly, [to] lawfully fight the rising crime that we are seeing,” he said.

As if to emphasize his eagerness to remain on the job, Mr. Sessions told the president, “And it’s an honor to be …”

“That’s — that’s great,” Mr. Trump interrupted.

“… able to serve you in that regard,” Mr. Sessions said.

“Thank you,” the president said.

White House aides were noncommittal for several days last week when asked by reporters whether the president still had confidence in Mr. Sessions. A spokeswoman finally said the president had confidence in the attorney general and the rest of his Cabinet.

Mr. Sessions said the administration is sending “exactly the right message” to law enforcement agencies about new get-tough policies for fighting crime. “The response is fabulous around the country,” he said.

Mr. Trump praised the “great success, including MS-13,” referring to a brutal gang with roots in Central America that operates in the U.S.

“They’re being thrown out in record numbers — and rapidly,” Mr. Trump said. “And they’re being depleted. They’ll all be gone pretty soon. So you’re right, Jeff. Thank you very much.”

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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