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White House refuses to say if Comey tapes exist

The White House refused to say Monday whether recordings exist of conversations between President Trump and visitors to the White House, including fired FBI Director James Comey.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer also refused to say whether the president would comply with congressional requests to produce the recordings.

Facing repeated questions from multiple news outlets, Spicer went back to the same line: “The president has made it clear what his position is.”

Pressed specifically on whether Trump would deny a request to turn over any recordings, the spokesman replied, “I was clear the president would have nothing further on that last week.”

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Spicer's response heightened a standoff between the executive and legislative branches that could complicate the process to replace Comey.

Lawmakers from both parties have called on Trump to turn over any tapes if they exist.

Some Democrats have said they will try to block Trump’s FBI director nominee if he does not turn over the recordings or acknowledge that none exist.

They are also using the fight to underline their arguments for a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election, as well as possible ties between Moscow and Trump campaign associates.

“What happened this week makes it all the more important that we get a special prosecutor,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFive takeaways from the final Tennessee Senate debate Schumer rips Trump 'Medicare for all' op-ed as 'smears and sabotage' GOP senator suspects Schumer of being behind release of Ford letter MORE (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union.”

“To have that special prosecutor, people would breathe a sigh of relief, because then there would be a real independent person overlooking the FBI director,” he added. 

Trump and his aides have repeatedly disparaged the Russia investigation, arguing it is “fake news” and that Democrats and the media should move on.

Comey’s firing was particularly notable, however, since he was overseeing the FBI’s probe into Russian meddling, which he revealed earlier this year.

And while Trump has won support from GOP leaders in Congress for firing Comey, a number of Republican lawmakers have expressed discomfort with the move.

The possibility that tapes exist of conversations between Trump and Comey was raised by Trump on Twitter.

In a tweet on Friday, he appeared to threaten Comey with the tapes just days after his surprise decision to fire the FBI director.

Trump warned Comey that he had “better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Spicer has repeatedly declined to say whether any such recordings were made.

“I’ve talked to the president. The president has nothing further to add on that," Spicer said last Friday.

Trump, too, has refused to elaborate on his claims.

“I won't talk about that,” he told Fox News last week. “All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be and I'm sure he will be, I hope.”

The White House’s decision to stonewall questions about the existence of recordings may be untenable.

Spicer’s responses on Monday quickly became a leading story of the day.

The press secretary, who appeared uncomfortable at times during the briefing, was asked about the possible tapes nine times by three different reporters on Monday. 

Those questions will almost certainly hover over Trump’s first overseas trip, which begins Friday.

The fight over the tapes comes amid speculation that Trump might be ready to make changes to his White House staff, including the possible firing of Spicer.

Trump was reportedly unhappy that his communications team was not ready to defend his decision to fire Comey immediately after it was announced last week.

But Trump hurt his own case by contradicting the White House’s initial rationale for the firing: that the president acted after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended that Comey be fired.

In an interview with NBC that aired Thursday, Trump said he had always planned to fire Comey, whom he criticized as a “showboat.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Saudi Arabia, Turkey to form joint investigation into Khashoggi disappearance Democrats must end mob rule MORE (R-S.C.) on Sunday called on the White House to "clear the air" about the existence of any tapes.

“You can't be cute about tapes. If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over,” Graham said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line MORE (R-Utah) said if the tapes do exist, it’s “probably inevitable” that Trump would have to turn them over to Congress, which is investigating whether his associates colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

“If, in fact, there are such recordings, I think those recordings will be subpoenaed, and I think they will probably have to turn them over,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”