Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Donald Trump is a compulsive liar. It’s sad that such a statement is necessary to make about a president of the United States, but there’s no escaping the fact.

I say this not to be insulting, but because the fact of Trump’s basic dishonesty must be established when evaluating any news story about him. Nothing he says can ever be taken at face value. If he contradicts himself by saying one thing one day and then the opposite later, it’s just as likely that either statement is false–or that both statements may be false.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to the subject of Trump’s taping former FBI Director James Comey–or not. Those who follow the news closely already know what happened: after it became clear to Trump that Comey would likely expose what took place in their private conversation during which Trump allegedly demanded his loyalty and pressured him to drop the Russia investigation, Trump threatened Comey with a tweet saying that Comey should hope their were no “tapes.” In Trump’s usual odd fashion, “tapes” was put in quotation marks, nor was there any satisfactory clarification during the subsequent White House press briefings (which were still allowed to be televised at the time) about what exactly those quotation marks meant, or whether there were tapes at all.

The possibility that there might be recordings of the conversation that the president might selectively leak, created a strong incentive for Comey to testify to Congress in order to get his side of the story out quickly. In the folksy manner of another Norman Rockwell bygone era, Comey prefaced his hope that tapes would be produced with a “Lordy” prefacing it for emphasis.

Weeks went by with no “tapes” produced. Then yesterday Trump supposedly admitted in an interview that there really weren’t any tapes at all, but that he pretended there were in order to influence Comey to be truthful.

Many pixels have been spilled decrying the president for using such tactics, suggesting that they strengthen the allegations against Trump for obstructing justice, and pointing out that despite Trump’s (and the interviewer’s) suggestion that the deception was a smart move, it seems to have backfired.

But almost universally the press seems to have accepted as true the latest assertion that Trump did not tape his conversations with Comey. But there’s no more reason to believe Trump yesterday than there was to believe him in the weeks before.

Trump has a long history of making secret recordings of people with whom he does business. It’s entirely plausible that he recorded the conversation with Comey, then threatened to use those recordings against Comey without even realizing that they would incriminate him while exonerating the former FBI chief. That seems just as likely as the notion that he made up the story about taping entirely.

With Trump there is no way to know, because he has absolutely no shame about lying, and the Trump Razor applies: the stupidest explanation for Trump’s behavior is likely the correct one. It’s just hard to say which would be stupider: that Trump claimed to have recordings of conversations he didn’t, or that he recorded the conversations but failed to realize who would be more damaged by releasing them.

Either way, there’s no reason to believe Trump is telling the truth this time any more than last time.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.