US President Donald Trump on Thursday denied a report that he wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference to declare he broke no laws during a July phone call in which Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democrats.
Trump tweeted just after midnight that the story, first reported by The Washington Post, “is totally untrue and just another FAKE NEWS story with anonymous sources that don’t exist”.
Trump then continued to lash out at the press, declaring “The LameStream Media” to be the “Enemy of the People”.
The Washington Post reported that Barr rebuffed the request, which came in September around the time the White House released a rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 call at the centre of the House impeachment inquiry. The paper, citing unidentified people familiar with the effort, said the request was relayed from the president to White House officials, and then to the Justice Department.
House Democrats are investigating Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate political rivals as aid money was being withheld from the Eastern European country.
Trump insists he did nothing wrong.
“Just read the Transcript,” he wrote Thursday. “The Justice Department already ruled that the call was good.”
That appears to be a reference to a statement from the Justice Department in September announcing that the department’s Criminal Division “reviewed the official record of the call and determined, based on the facts and applicable law, that there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted”.
Barr famously held a news conference before the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian election meddling. Barr painted what many saw as an overly flattering picture as it related to Trump and repeatedly declared investigators had found “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia, a point Trump had seized on to try to claim vindication.
While the appearance drew praise from Trump, it also raised alarms from critics already wary of his independence after Barr released a letter summarizing the reports’ conclusions, which Mueller later complained “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the full report and led to “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of” the investigation.
The report and Trump’s denial comes as Democrats prepare to move the impeachment inquiry into the public hearing phase.
On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced that the hearing will begin next week.
The hearings will mark a new, and potentially significant, phase of the impeachment inquiry, which Democrats launched in September. While a House panel has been hearing testimonies in closed-door sessions from several officials in recent weeks, this will be the first time the entirety of the questioning will be public.
Schiff said his committee will hear from top Ukraine diplomat William Taylor and career department official George Kent next Wednesday and from former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch next Friday. All three state department officials had previously appeared in the closed-door sessions.