Donald Trump wanted his attorney general William Barr to hold a press conference saying a call he made to the Ukrainian president broke no laws, multiple US media outlets have reported.
The US president reportedly pushed the suggestion around Sept 25, the day after the Democrats announced their impeachment inquiry into the Ukraine scandal, but Mr Barr ultimately declined to take up the request.
The story, first reported by The Washington Post, reveals a point of difference between Mr Barr - previously seen as a loyal lieutenant to Mr Trump - and the White House over a saga that threatens the Trump presidency.
However Mr Trump was quick to deny the report in vehement terms, attacking the “lowlife” reporters who broke the story and calling the claims “pure fiction”. “We both deny this story, which they knew before they wrote it,” Mr Trump said of himself and Mr Barr.
A senior US administration official told The Washington Post: "The Department of Justice 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."
In a separate blow on Thursday Mr Trump was ordered by a New York judge to pay $2 million for using his former charity to further his political and business interests. Mr Trump had been accused in the legal challenge of using funds from the Trump Foundation to settle lawsuits, promote his hotels and for personal spending. The foundation was closed in December.
Mr Barr, who once served as George W Bush’s attorney general, has been accused by Democrats of acting more like Mr Trump’s personal attorney than the top US justice official since he returned to the role in February - criticism Republicans have waved away.
His handling of the Mueller report into 2016 Russian election meddling, which saw the findings drip-fed to the public over a space of weeks, was seen by critics to have benefited the president.
Mr Barr was named in the transcript of the now infamous July 25 call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during which the US president urged his counterpart to investigate Joe Biden - the Democrat he could face in the 2020 election - and his son Hunter Biden. The Bidens have always denied wrongdoing.
Mr Trump said during the call - after a discussion about investigations - that he was “going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it”.
Around the same time as the release of the transcript, which dragged Mr Barr into the centre of the scandal, the Justice Department issued a statement putting distance between him and the saga.
“The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former vice president Biden or his son,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.
Mr Trump has already fallen out spectacularly with one attorney general amid the pressure of an investigation into his actions.
The US president turned on Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator who recused himself from overseeing the Russian meddling investigation, frequently denouncing him as "weak". Mr Sessions eventually left the government in November 2018.
Elsewhere, after more than a month of mixed messaging on the impeachment inquiry, there are signs that Mr Trump and his allies are making preparations for the public hearings, which begin next week.
Mr Trump has hired two new people to help draft responses to the impeachment inquiry - Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, and Tony Sayegh, a former aide to Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The Republicans are also considering packing the House Intelligence Committee, which will hold the hearings, with Trump loyalists, aware of how the drama will play out before the TV cameras and a national audience of millions.
They are planning to call the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about Mr Trump’s Ukraine behaviour kick-started the impeachment inquiry to give public testimony, despite the individual's requests to remain anonymous.
The Democrats would need to approve the move for it to happen, which is unlikely. John Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, on Thursday failed to appear before the inquiry.
Multiple witnesses have said he raised warnings about the pursuit of a Biden investigation when he became aware.
The Democrat-led committees leading the probe declined to subpoena Mr Bolton after his lawyer indicated they would challenge the move through the courts.
It suggests that Democrats do not want their investigation to get delayed by lengthy court battles. CNN reported the vote on whether to impeach Mr Trump in the House of Representatives could be held in the last week before Christmas.