WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday denied a report that he called upon Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference declaring the president did not violate any laws when urging the president of Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.
Trump, responding to a report published in The Washington Post late Wednesday night, took to Twitter to push back against the article that cited unnamed sources familiar with the request that was eventually rejected by Barr.
“Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine,” Trump said in a flurry of morning tweets. “The story was a Fake Washington Post con job with an ‘anonymous’ source that doesn’t exist. Just read the Transcript. The Justice Department already ruled that the call was good. We don’t have freedom of the press!”
Trump appeared to be referring to a statement issued by the Justice Department in September indicating the department had “reviewed the official record” of Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky, and “determined, based on the facts and applicable law, that there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted.”
A summarized transcript of the call released by the White House in September shows that days after ordering the suspension of $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, Trump called on Zelensky for “a favor” — to investigate a debunked theory tying Ukraine, not Russia, to the Democratic National Committee’s 2016 hacked campaign emails, and to investigate 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The call is at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, with congressional Democrats contending the president’s push to have a foreign ally investigate his political adversaries amounts to an abuse of his office.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the Post story, but a senior Trump administration official told the outlet: “The DOJ did in fact release a statement about the call, and the claim that it resulted in tension because it wasn’t a news conference is completely false.”
Barr previously came under scrutiny for holding a news conference just before the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian election interference in the 2016 election, and alleged attempts by Trump to obstruct that investigation. Critics argued Barr’s conference cast the report in a favorable light to Trump. Mueller later said Barr’s public remarks “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the report’s findings.