Lawmakers want tapes of Trump-Comey conversation

White House mum on existence of recording system amid demand from both parties

US President Donald Trump has suggested in a tweet that he may have taped private White House conversations with then FBI director James Comey.
US President Donald Trump has suggested in a tweet that he may have taped private White House conversations with then FBI director James Comey.

WASHINGTON • Key United States lawmakers from both parties have said that President Donald Trump will need to hand over any recordings of conversations in the White House if such a taping system does exist.

A tweet by Mr Trump suggested that he may have taped private White House conversations with then FBI director James Comey, who was abruptly fired last week.

White House officials have not confirmed or denied the existence of a recording system. The non-denials have intensified calls by Democrats for an independent, non-partisan special prosecutor to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday.

Republican Senator Mike Lee, a former federal prosecutor, said "it's probably inevitable" that such tapes would need to be handed over to Congress and predicted that they would be subpoenaed.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a Democrat, said that if tapes exist, "the President should turn them over immediately".

"To destroy them would be a violation of law," Mr Schumer told CNN's State Of The Union.

Appearing on ABC's This Week, Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said his panel or another congressional committee "absolutely" would subpoena Mr Trump for such tapes - an opinion shared by Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Calls for the release of recordings came as an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that just 29 per cent of Americans said they approve of the decision to sack Mr Comey; 38 per cent disapprove.

Mr Schumer also said on Sunday that Democrats are poised for an aggressive political fight if Mr Trump nominates a partisan figure to lead the FBI. He said that he supports blocking Mr Trump's eventual nominee until the Justice Department (DOJ) names a special prosecutor to investigate Russia's meddling.

While notable, Mr Schumer's threat may be toothless: Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate, and a rules changes made in 2013 by Democrats means that whoever is nominated only requires a simple majority vote to be confirmed.

Mr Graham dismissed calls by Democrats for a special prosecutor or independent commission.

"It's not a criminal investigation. I see no need for a special commission yet," he said.

On Saturday, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein interviewed eight people for the role of FBI director, including Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.

New York State Court of Appeals judge Michael Garcia and Ms Alice Fisher, who previously led the DOJ's criminal division, also were interviewed.

Former Republican congressman Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent, and Ms Frances Townsend, who served as President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser, also met Mr Sessions and Mr Rosenstein, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, a former director of national intelligence, Mr James Clapper, said on Sunday during a CNN interview that he found the firing "very disturbing" and that the country's systems of checks and balances was "under assault" by the White House.

But Ms Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, appearing on ABC's This Week, defended Mr Trump.

"The President is the CEO of his country," she said. "He can hire and fire whoever he wants, that's his right."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'Lawmakers want tapes of Trump-Comey conversation'. Subscribe