US & Canada

Trump: I did not record ex-FBI chief James Comey

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Media captionTrump injects reality TV suspense into 'Comey tapes' saga

US President Donald Trump has stated he did not make secret recordings of ex-FBI chief James Comey, despite an earlier hint to the contrary.

He tweeted that he "did not make, and do not have, any such recordings", a day before he was required to hand over any such tapes by Congress.

Mr Trump kick-started speculation of recordings in a tweet he posted days after firing Mr Comey in May.

He said: "James Comey better hope there are no 'tapes' of our conversations".

This tweet resulted in a flurry of allegations and speculation that Mr Comey was fired in order to hamper the FBI's investigation into alleged Russian interference in last year's election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and Moscow.

Whatever its intention, the tweet ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that has taken over the investigation.

What is the context?

It all stems from last year's presidential election and mounting evidence that Russian cyber hackers targeted US electoral systems in order to help Donald Trump win - something Moscow has strongly denied.

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Media captionDo Trump voters care about the Russia investigation?

Within days of his appointment as Mr Trump's new National Security Adviser in February, Mike Flynn resigned after it emerged he had lied to federal agents about a conversation about sanctions with the Russian ambassador before taking office.

Other key members of Mr Trump's campaign team have also been accused of meeting key Russian officials before taking office; it is illegal to conduct US diplomacy as a private citizen.

Although Mr Trump has made no secret of his desire to have greater links with Russia - and even shared highly-sensitive "codeword" material with them last month - he has adamantly denied any collusion to alter the result of the election.

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Media captionJames Comey told Congress earlier this month: "Lordy I hope there are tapes"

But the ongoing leaks of alleged links and the FBI probe clearly rattled him.

Russia: The 'cloud' over the White House

How Trump's Russia trouble unfolded

At a meeting in the Oval Office in February, President Trump made the unusual request to speak alone with Mr Comey.

It was during this one-to-one meeting, Mr Comey testified to Congress earlier this month, that Mr Trump asked him to "let go" any possible prosecution of Mr Flynn. He was also asked to give assurances of his loyalty.

What happened next?

Mr Comey confirmed for the first time in March that the FBI was indeed investigating possible links between Mr Trump's campaign aides and the Russian government.

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Media captionTrump's love-hate relationship with Comey over a tumultuous year

A few weeks later, in a move that shocked Washington, Mr Trump fired Mr Comey. He told NBC News: "When I decided to just do it [fire Mr Comey] I said to myself, I said 'you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story..."

James Comey: From 'brave' to fired

Did Trump fire Comey as part of a cover-up?

Three days later on 12 May, in what was then perceived to be a threat to Mr Comey, he tweeted: "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Mr Comey then leaked memos he had written of his own private meetings with Mr Trump, and expanded on the contents when he appeared before Congress.

When asked whether he thought the conversation had been recorded, Mr Comey replied: "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."

Trump v Comey: Who said what

The House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russian meddling in the election, sent a letter to the White House on 9 June asking that, if the tapes exist, they be handed over by Friday.

Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday: "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea... whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."

Asked why it took more than a month to end speculation about the tapes, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: "You guys asked for an answer, he gave you one, he said he would have it to you by the end of this week, which he did, and beyond timing of that I can't speak anything further."

Theatricality in the White House: Analysis by Jon Sopel, BBC North America Editor

There are elements of Donald Trump's presidency that come straight from a reality TV show. You saw it when he was assembling key figures for his administration. You would see them arrive for interviews as if it was an audition, and Mr Trump talked in those terms.

Much of the way Donald Trump operates seems to follow on from the time he was on The Apprentice when you would have to wait until the end of the episode to see who would be hired and who would be fired.

There is an element of that in the White House. There is great theatricality over some of the most serious issues. For instance, on something like the Paris climate change deal he says he will make an announcement at the end of the week, even though he already knows what that decision is going to be, he is gaming it.

This is something new. Not just in US politics, but in any politics I've reported on from anywhere around the world.

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