Trump wanted Barr to hold news conference saying the president broke no laws in call with Ukrainian leader
By: Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Carol Leonnig
President Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said.
The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr’s demurral to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say.
In recent weeks, the Justice Department has sought some distance from the White House, particularly on matters relating to the burgeoning controversy over Trump’s dealings on Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry they sparked.
People close to the administration say Barr and Trump remain on good terms. A senior administration official said Trump praised the attorney general publicly and privately Wednesday, and deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement: “The President has nothing but respect for AG Barr and greatly appreciates the work he’s done on behalf of the country — and no amount of shady sources with clear intent to divide, smear, and slander will change that.”
But those close to the administration also concede that the department has made several recent maneuvers putting it at odds with the White House at a particularly precarious time for the president. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the politically fraught situation.
The request for the news conference came sometime around Sept. 25, when the administration released a rough transcript of the president’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The document showed that Trump urged Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter — while dangling a possible White House visit for the foreign leader.
By then, a whistleblower complaint about the call had moved congressional Democrats to launch the impeachment inquiry, and the administration was on the defensive. As the rough transcript was released, a Justice Department spokeswoman said officials had evaluated it and the whistleblower complaint to see whether campaign finance laws had been broken, determined that none had been and decided “no further action was warranted.”