President Trump suggested Friday that there may be “tapes” of his private conversations with FBI Director James B. Comey, whom he fired earlier this week, in what appeared to be an attempt to threaten Comey about “leaking to the press.”
James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
I thought this was hilarious, though if my assumptions are right, it has probably gone over everyone’s head. FBI is first and foremost an intelligence agency. That is, the type of agency that creates tapes and recordings.
When I read Trump’s tweet, with “tapes” in quotes, I see Trump ribbing Comey over something. What I assume it is, is that Comey recorded their conversation, and Trump is reminding Comey that as President he will have access to the tapes after Comey is gone.
As an intelligence officer, leading an intelligence agency, I will bet Comey wears a recording device every day, and especially when he has conversations with powerful people of interest. It is not impossible, given the cheapness of the equipment, and the ease of wearing it today, that all FBI agents don a body recording device in their suits each day as part of their regular equipment, and record all of their interactions with everyone. I actually know civilians who do this whenever they go out for various reasons.
The FBI agents could do it on the off chance they catch something of use to their investigations, or they could do it because they are amassing as much intelligence on everyone as they possibly can. Comey might even do it as a political insurance program to protect himself from false charges, or to gain leverage over political figures who might one day be of use to the Bureau.
One of the major ways Federal agents gain leverage over targets is by querying the target, and catching them saying something that is not true. Once they have that, the target has committed a federal felony by lying to a federal agent, and all of a sudden they have leverage over them. As an intelligence agency, leverage is like gold to them, because now they can turn the target into an asset.
When Comey meets the President I assume he has no scrutiny or screening before they meet. I would assume his security hands him off to Secret Service, and he simply walks in to meet the President, so he wouldn’t have to worry about any recording devices he is wearing being detected. If Comey is wearing recording devices as part of his daily “uniform,” it is not impossible he was the one who recorded the entire meeting with Trump, and Trump is savvy enough with all aspects of modern warfare – political, business, and otherwise – to know this would be procedure.
Since Comey would have recorded it as part of his FBI duties, I would also assume that when he returned to Bureau headquarters he would log the recordings from that day, and they would be tagged with relevant content keywords, and archived, probably as part of a regular procedure to log all recordings into a searchable database. I would bet if you have talked to a Federal agent about anything of interest to the government, there is a recording of it in the database attached to your name somewhere. This is a nation today where every piece of mail is photographed and attached to your name and address in the database by OCR, to the point the Postal Service can email you daily with photos of all the mail you are about to receive.
If my assumptions true, then Trump’s tweet was not implying President Trump recorded the conversation. Rather President Trump was letting Comey know he is aware that Comey recorded the conversation, and he is letting him know that as President he can pull the conversation from the FBI database for public release or leaking, embarrassing Comey twice – first over his misrepresentation of what was said, and second over the fact that Comey recorded their conversation, which carries a creepy, mentally unbalanced air to those outside of intelligence circles and unfamiliar with intel practices today.
That would also explain why Trump has nothing further to say. This was a one-off press of Comey’s buttons over the whole wiretapping scandal, which I’m sure is a button among upper level FBI and domestic intel. Now everybody in intel is wondering if Trump might leak classified intel techniques that would freak out the populace to the nation, just out of spite.
The key message being, don’t fuck with the God Emperor.
There is one other element to this. The letter firing Comey was very harsh, and appeared to hit Comey out of the blue. Trump is a notoriously loyal guy. Trying to extrapolate out how he would handle firing Comey, I would have assumed he would have called Comey and given him the option to resign quietly, “to be with his family.” Or he would have issued a letter that was laudatory to Comey, and more measured in its tone regarding his release. One of those letters that speaks of just wanting to “go in a different direction,” and highlights his great service while thanking him.
It is possible there is more going on than we are aware of. In the coming years we may find out that either Comey was trying to do something behind Trump’s back to hobble his Presidency, or Comey was running interference for someone else like McCabe who was running an off the books operation to kneecap the Presidency of President Trump, or maybe compromise Trump associates.
Given this tweet, I can’t help but wonder if part of that operation involved taping something, and this was Trump’s way of reminding Comey of why he was fired and how pervasive surveillance has become in these days.
Whatever the cause, don’t fuck with the God Emperor.