WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump wanted Attorney General William Barr to say publicly that Trump broke no laws in his dealings with Ukraine, aides said Thursday, though Barr has never taken such a step during the ongoing impeachment investigation.
Instead, the Justice Department issued a statement in late September that "there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted" related to Trump's phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump had sought the kind of news conference that Barr conducted after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. But officials said he is satisfied with the way the Justice Department has handled the matter.
"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," one administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
In that statement, the department said that prosecutors had reviewed the summary of the July 25 Zelensky call 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 inspector general based on a whistleblower's complaint.
Democrat lawmakers, however, have since criticized the department's review as superficial, noting that it was based entirely on the written summary of the call, which even the White House indicated was incomplete. Authorities conducted no interviews to learn why a whistleblower took the extraordinary step of taking his concern to the inspector general for the nation's intelligence agencies.
The Washington Post, which first disclosed the the president's desire for the attorney general to support him, reported that Trump wanted 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."
Trump disputed aspects of the story in a morning tweet, saying Barr "did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine" and noting that "the Justice Department already ruled that the call was good."
Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2019
The Democrat-controlled U.S. House is conducting an impeachment investigation of Trump's request that Ukraine investigate U.S. political opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had business dealings in Ukraine.
The impeachment investigation also centers on evidence Trump withheld military aide from Ukraine and a White House meeting unless it complied with his request to launch investigations.
Democrats, including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump tried to get a foreign government involved in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Trump maintains he did nothing wrong, and that Democrats and the media are engaged in a "deranged, delusional, destructive, and hyper-partisan impeachment witch hunt."
Democrats have also accused Barr of trying to shield Trump from accountability. They criticized the attorney general for his April news conference after the release of the Mueller report, in which Barr asserted there was no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
Offering a strong defense of Trump, Barr also asserted that the president’s conduct during the Mueller investigation, including threats to fire the special counsel, did not rise to the level of obstruction of justice.
In the Ukraine matter, Barr was angered after first learning that Trump had invoked his name in the phone call with Zelensky, offering the attorney general’s assistance in pursuing investigations into Biden and his son. Barr has said he is not involved in any of that.
"The attorney general has not communicated with Ukraine on this or any other subject," the department said in a statement at the time the call summary was released in September.
While Trump wanted another news conference on Ukraine, officials said the president and his attorney general still get along well.
“The President has nothing but respect for Attorney General Barr and greatly appreciates the work he’s done on behalf of the country," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said. "And no amount of shady sources with clear intent to divide, smear, and slander will change that.”
This wouldn't be the first time Trump has asked a law enforcement official to clear him.
In 2017, the president asked then-FBI Director James Comey to announce that Trump was not a target of the Russia investigation. Comey's refusal to do so was one of the factors behind Trump's decision to fire him, another firestorm in his tumultuous presidency.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump wanted Bill Barr to make public statement on Ukraine call