US President Donald Trump warning to former FBI Director James Comey against leaking anything negative about him - tweeting "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" - is deeply troubling.
In another stunning reversal one day earlier, President Trump told NBC News that he planned to fire Comey even before meeting with top-ranking Justice Department officials and soliciting their recommendations on his performance.
Trump's threat came the morning after NBC aired an interview in which he called Comey a "showboat" and a "grand-stander" and said that the FBI has "been in turmoil" and hasn't recovered from Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Trump's top spokesman refused to comment on whether listening devices are active in the Oval Office or elsewhere, a non-denial that recalled the secretly taped conversations and telephone calls that ultimately led to President Richard Nixon's downfall in the Watergate scandal.
"If you ever wanted to write a dialogue or a plan for how to piss off an agency, that's the way to do it", said David Rubincam, a retired FBI agent who spent more than 20 years in bureau postings in the United States and overseas.
"Well that I can't talk about".
"Here's the thing, the difference between me and another president", Trump said.
"I want to get to the bottom if Russian Federation or anybody is trying to tamper or play with our election", Trump told Fox News' Jeanine Pirro.More news: Senators draw first blood in conference final
Spicer, who kept his answers short during Friday's briefing and largely dodged specific questions about Trump's meeting with Comey, said he was not aware that any recording of the Trump-Comey meeting exists.
"That is possible", Trump said.
The firing has plunged the Trump White House into another political crisis, as Democrats have roundly castigated the decision, and some Republicans have expressed unease.
It was Trump who, out of the blue, fired FBI Director Jim Comey this week on the obviously ridiculous pretext that missteps made past year, in the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email, were suddenly disqualifying. After Mike Pence replaced Christie as the head of the Trump transition effort toward the end of 2016, Flynn - by then one of Trump's closest advisers - assumed control of national security issues.
In a tweet, Trump issued a threat to Comey over "leaking to the press".
At Friday afternoon's White House press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer did not rule out the possibility of their cancellation. In his testimony he defended his former boss, contradicting assertions by administration officials and Trump that Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI's rank-and-file. If Comey did indeed refuse to pledge loyalty to Trump, he was correct for doing so; if Trump did indeed fire Comey because he was insufficiently loyal, he violated the spirit of the Constitution by doing so. "You know, it depends on how you define loyalty, No. 1; No. 2, I don't know how it got out there because I didn't ask that question".
Trump has claimed that Comey asked to meet with him so that he could keep his job, and that during the conversation he reassured the president that he was not under investigation.
According to the DOJ, Comey "usurped" then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch by giving a press conference on July 5, 2016, announcing the Federal Bureau of Investigation wouldn't recommend charges against Clinton. Mike Rogers, a former Republican congressman from MI who led the House Intelligence panel, and former New York City police Commissioner Ray Kelly also are on the list, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But he called Trump's tweet "inappropriate".