Story highlights

Tapper on how Trump handled Comey: "Not a great strategy"

Tapper: White House's "accountability-free zone" an abnormal norm for Trump

CNN  — 

On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump formally revealed what many within Washington, DC had already assumed: He does not, in fact, have recordings of his conversation with former FBI Chief James Comey.

But for CNN’s Jake Tapper, it was the administration’s afternoon activity that proved most telling.

“After the President’s admission today, the White House held a press briefing in which cameras were banned, and the audio was not provided live. Rather it was released after the fact,” said the host of CNN’s “The Lead.”

Labeling such a practice as both “odd and unusual,” Tapper suggested it’s fast becoming an abnormal norm for the Trump administration.

“This is part and parcel of a White House trying to operate in something close to an accountability-free zone,” Tapper concluded, referencing an environment in which the President’s staff is saved from appearing live on television to “defend aberrant behavior on Twitter or explain the false things” claimed by Trump.

Tweets, lies and videotape

As for the President’s initial claim, one that came – naturally, via Twitter – 41 days ago, Tapper wondered about Trump’s motive.

“Now it is unclear why the President made that initial tweet. Was it bluster? Witness intimidation?” he asked rhetorically. If Trump’s goal was to force Comey into honest testimony, Tapper said, “the plan seems to have backfired.”

After all, on the stand, less than a month after the Trump tweet, it was the now-former FBI director who famously uttered “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

To Tapper, simply the suggestion of recordings lifted a weight square off of Comey’s 6-foot-8-inch frame.

“The notion of tapes, for Comey, that tweet, that made him excited,” surmised the host. So much so, that on June 8 the FBI’s once top-cop testified that he was moved to pass along details of his conversations with Trump to an associate. Comey’s hope was that the information would soon be splashed across the nation’s newspapers, lead the next day’s newscasts, and ultimately, result in the hiring of a special counsel.

Enter Mr. Mueller

“Comey’s plan worked,” Tapper said. On May 17, Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.

While Trump’s reason for the original tweet – the one threatening that Comey “better hope” there are no tapes – remains unclear, Tapper is convinced it didn’t unfold exactly as the commander-in-chief had hoped.

“Not a great strategy President Trump,” he said.

140 Characters of Confusion

In issuing a wide-sweeping indictiment of the adminstration’s communication process to date, Tapper said he’d ask Trump about the various inconsistencies of his tenure, including conflicting public statements on the non-binding Paris climate agreement. However, that simply isn’t permissible by the President.

“He is limiting his interviews,” said Tapper, adding that his staffers prefer to simply suggest “the President has been very clear, when he has been anything but.”

As for Trump’s preferred method of promoting his message, the one he often turns to late at night, or in the wee hours of the morning? Tapper reminded his viewers of the administration’s insistence that “the tweet speaks for itself,” before closing his monologue with an opinion to the contrary.

“The tweet most certainly does not,” he concluded, noting “as was made clear just today.”