On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer refused to offer any clarity on a simple but absolutely critical question: Is President Donald Trump taping phone calls he makes and receives?
The President has nothing further on that,” Spicer said at one point.
“The President’s made clear that’s what his position is,” he said at another.
There’s a number of problems with those responses but the most obvious is this: Trump has, in no way, shape or form made clear what his “position” is on taping phone calls.
Here’s the extent of Trump’s “position,” which came in the form of a tweet last Friday morning: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
In the 72 hours since that Trump tweet, the White House has provided absolutely zero guidance as to whether it was meant in jest or is, in fact, a reflection of what Trump is actually doing.
Reminder: At issue is whether the president of the United States is secretly taping phone calls – including those with his now-deposed FBI director.
That’s not a small deal or a side issue – especially considering that the last time a president secretly taped phone calls, he wound up resigning ahead of an almost-certain impeachment.
And yet, we get a single, vague tweet from the president of the United States followed by, well, nothing.
Let’s run through what could be going on here:
1. Trump has a secret taping system
If this is right, then Trump can “no comment” and have his press people avoid the question all he wants but the tapes will eventually come out. Congress – even a Republican-led one – will make sure of that.
2. Trump has no taping system but doesn’t want to back down
It’s possible that this “tapes” tweet is the second coming of Trump’s earlier tweet insisting that he had information that President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the 2016 election. Despite everyone who is in a position to know saying publicly that no such wiretapping order was made, Trump continues to defend it – now trying to elide his claim with the broader surveillance operations run by the National Security Agency. Trump simply doesn’t like to admit he popped off or said something without proof. And he certainly doesn’t want Spicer doing that from behind the podium.
3. Spicer doesn’t know whether Trump has a taping system
Plausible deniability is a key component for every White House press secretary. Better to not be looped in than have to lie for the boss. Not only that but Spicer has never been in the Trump inner circle. So it’s possible Spicer just plain doesn’t know whether Trump is taping conversations – and has no interest in finding out.
Option No. 2 is the best one for Trump because, well, it’s the only one in which he isn’t secretly taping phone calls in the White House. But, regardless of the reasoning, it’s virtually impossible for the White House to maintain their current position on the taping issue.
Trump hasn’t articulated a position. So Spicer referring back to Trump’s past comment is useless. Reporters won’t – and shouldn’t – stop asking whether the most powerful person in the country has a secret taping system in the White House. And, eventually, Trump is going to have to answer that question – or risk his presidency growing even more side-tracked than it already is.