Attorney General Barr says he does not recall Trump request to defend Ukraine call

Samuel Hardiman, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Attorney General Barr says he does not recall Trump request to defend Ukraine call

Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday disputed accounts that the White House requested that he hold a news conference to defend President Donald Trump's call to his Ukrainian counterpart in which the president pressed for an investigation of political rival Joe Biden.

Barr acknowledged that he informed the White House that the Justice Department would issue a statement about the call, which concluded that Trump's conduct did not warrant a criminal investigation into possible campaign finance violations.

"If you're talking about press reports that he asked me to have a news conference, I don't remember any such request," Barr said during a law enforcement appearance in Memphis, Tennessee. "In fact, my recollection is I told the White House that we would do what we would normally do, which is issue a press statement. Which is what we did. There was no pushback on that."

Attorney General William Barr visits the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building in Memphis, Tenn., on Nov. 13 to announce the launch of Project Guardian, a nationwide effort to reduce gun violence.

On a separate issue, Barr indicated that release of the Justice Department inspector general’s review of the FBI’s surveillance of Trump campaign associates was "imminent."

Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been examining the matter to determine whether federal authorities engaged in any abuse of surveillance authority during the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

"Inspector General Horowitz is a fiercely independent investigator and a superb investigator who I think has conducted this particular investigation in the most professional way. And I think his work, when it does come out, will be a credit to the department," Barr said. "It has been reported and it is my understanding that it is imminent." 

Barr's remarks came as the House Intelligence Committee in Washington opened the public phase of its impeachment inquiry into the president's phone call July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that Trump wanted Barr "to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws” during his call with his Ukrainian counterpart.

The Justice Department issued a written statement in late September that "there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted" related to Trump's call with Zelensky.

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In the Justice statement, the department said prosecutors reviewed the call summary and determined that no criminal investigation was warranted into possible violations of campaign finance law. The matter had been referred to the Justice Department by the U.S. intelligence community's inspector general based on a whistleblower’s complaint.

Barr was in Memphis to announce a gun violence reduction initiative, Project Guardian, aimed at a broader application of federal gun law prosecutions. Barr said he chose Memphis for the announcement because of the city's homicide and violent crime rates.

In New Mexico on Tuesday, Barr said the state was in a violent crime crisis because of its pretrial release system. The state's chief public defender took issue with Barr's comments, saying he had seen no evidence of that. 

Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Ukraine: Barr doesn't recall Trump request to defend July call