John’s Notebook: Trump, tapes, and honesty

This week, President Trump said that there was no White House taping system. It ended a mystery he had created. Former FBI director James Comey described an Oval Office encounter where the president encouraged him to wrap up his investigation into Michael Flynn. The president said it didn't happen and warned tapes might contradict Comey.

Well, there are no tapes and in making this announcement this week, the president was celebrating an anniversary. 44 years ago on June 23rd, Richard Nixon recorded what would become known as the "smoking gun" tape-- where he told his staff to have the CIA tell the FBI to stop investigating the Watergate break-in. It sealed Nixon's fate.

Why would President Trump encourage Nixon obstruction of justice comparisons by talking about tapes? On Fox and Friends Friday, the president offered insight into his gambit. He was trying to keep James Comey honest. As a private citizen, Donald Trump also reportedly hinted at having made recordings-- and maybe sometimes did-- as a way to keep people honest.

The press and the president are in agreement on this: a recording keeps people honest. That's why it was a mistake for the White House this week to further limit televised or audio recordings of press briefings. A sketch artist rendering of the audio and video-free briefing makes it look like a court room. But it's not a court. The briefing is a place where an administration explains in real time what it is doing on behalf of the people who pay their salaries.

There may not be a taping system in the Oval Office, but there is one in the press room. No installation required. The cameras are there and they are on. It's designed to keep people honest.