He dangled it on Twitter. He parried reporters’ questions about it. He milked the moment, drawing out the drama for weeks.
That big tease played out in 2011, when Trump promised to reveal what his private investigators had found in Hawaii about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. (Trump never did release anything.)
Now, Trump has stretched out a new high-stakes guessing game, this time in the White House, by hinting that he might have recordings of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.
Trump is expected to answer the tapes question this week.
If they do exist, they could become a central piece of evidence in the Russia investigation that has transfixed Washington and cast a shadow over the future of Trump’s presidency. If they don’t, questions will be raised about why the president would stake his reputation and political capital on promoting something that just isn’t real.
Several outside advisers who speak to Trump regularly said the president has not mentioned the existence of tapes during their conversations. White House aides have been known to grimace when the subject comes up, and more than a half-dozen staffers said they were unaware of any recording devices. All demanded anonymity to speak about private discussions with the president.
Whether the tapes exist or not, this is far from the first time that Trump, the former star of reality TV and tabloids, has manufactured a melodrama that begins with bluster but often ends with a whimper.
“I think he was in his way instinctively trying to rattle Comey,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump confidant. “He’s not a professional politician. He doesn’t come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: ‘I’ll outbluff you.'”