Washington (CNN)This is a master of innuendo at work -- President Donald Trump never actually CLAIMED there were tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.
Donald Trump just led everyone on a 40-day wild goose chase
What he did say, in a tweet, is that Comey had better hope there weren't any RECORDINGS.
"James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
It was a bluff. And Comey called it during HIS Senate testimony when he said, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."
Now we know that Comey's prayers are likely to go unanswered, after Trump said he didn't make any. Trump was the first to suggest they existed, so that means the tapes don't exist, right?
But just like he never actually, clearly said there were tapes, Trump -- in attempting to put the issue to rest -- doesn't actually say there are not tapes, either. It's also that kind of chatter, tactical but also reckless, that could land Trump in boiling hot water as a special counsel and congressional committees turn their attention to whether his words somehow obstructed Comey's work.
What's undeniable is that the President of the United States misled the American people and allowed them to go on a quixotic scavenger hunt from May 12 until June 22. And to some extent, it continues today.
Pay attention to his words in these two tweets Thursday:
"With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea...
"...whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."
So there you have it. Trump still allows for the possibility there are tapes. But if there are, well, he didn't make them and he doesn't have them. By bringing up reports of electronic surveillance and intercepts and all that, he further muddies the water. So, who knows what Trump is saying?
And that's the point.
That little smidge of doubt means that, even as your heart and your mind are both telling you there are no tapes, and though you can know to an incredible degree of certainty there are no tapes ... well, there are those reports of surveillance and intercepts, unmasking and leaking. Who can ever be sure of anything? (Again: That's the point.)
It also feeds into Trump's apparent incapacity to admit he was wrong. He's not going to come out and say he messed up -- that his tapes gambit failed and maybe even backfired, with Comey taking the tweet as a challenge, and subsequently burning the President through leaked memos and public testimony. That? That's not a reality you're likely to find reflected in a Trump tweetstorm.
Innuendo is how Trump commanded media attention to the idea of tapes for months, right up to Thursday. It's also why he suggested over and over again that millions of illegal voters had robbed him of the popular vote. It's how he fanned the birther conspiracy for years.
Trump might have been a great defense attorney; he's not proving things beyond a reasonable doubt, he's casting shadows on it.