How Trump’s dubious claims make the entire government react – Washington Post

The words leapt from President Trump’s mind to Twitter at 8:26 a.m. on the Friday after he fired FBI director James B. Comey, setting off a cascade of activity inside and outside of the federal government to figure out what, exactly, he meant.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote.

With that tweet, Trump immediately deepened his own ­legal and political quagmire, evoking comparisons to former President Richard M. Nixon and prompting congressional committees investigating his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia to demand the disclosure of any such recordings. The missive also prompted Comey to release previously undisclosed memos of his conversations with the president, which ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel who is now investigating whether Trump obstructed justice.

Far from knocking down the assertion that Trump had recorded conversations in the White House, his aides refused to give a definitive answer for weeks. Trump, ever the reality television host, teased at a news conference, “I’ll tell you about it over a very short period of time.”

On Thursday, 42 days later, he finally did. As most in Washington had anticipated, Trump said he did not have any such tapes.

The incident highlights a new reality for Washington, which now must spring into action to bolster or refute presidential assertions of dubious origin and with no evidence to back them up. In many cases, the claims have had the opposite effect than what the president presumably intended — feeding into doubts about his credibility, deepening his legal woes and generating unflattering accounts that dominate the news for weeks at a time.

And even when Trump has walked back a questionable comment, he has sometimes planted a new and similarly unsubstantiated claim. In denying Thursday that he had created “tapes” of his conversations with Comey, for example, Trump also suggested that he may have been surveilled.

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