Attorney General William Barr with Donald Trump (Tia Dufour/White House)
Attorney General William Barr, who helped Donald Trump bury the report on Trump-Russia links and possible obstruction of justice, has drawn the line at publicly helping Trump escape the Ukraine affair which has led to an impeachment inquiry.
Barr, appointed in January, was essential to Trump in pre-empting and then misrepresenting the 446-page Mueller Report on the Trump campaign’s interaction with Russian officials, including over hacked e-mails to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and at least eight cases with evidence of Trump’s obstruction or attempted obstruction.
But the Attorney General refused to hold a news conference declaring that Trump broke no laws in his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump pressed for investigations to tarnish Presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party and to cover up Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
The call sparked a formal complaint, from the CIA liaison with the White House over Ukraine, which has led to an impeachment inquiry in which current and former US officials have confirmed a 10-month campaign by Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — in an “irregular channel” of US foreign policy — for the investigations.
Trump advisors said Barr’s refusal has rankled Trump, who has repeatedly mentioned in recent weeks that he wished the Attorney General would have held the conference.
“People who have spoken with them” say Trump is also angry with Barr for urging the release of a reconstructed transcript of the Trump-Zelenskiy call. Far from damping down concern, the transcript — even with significant omissions by the White House — corroborated the account of the CIA liaison and of the multiple White House officials with whom he worked.
Barr has been unsettled that, in the call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to meet the Attorney General and Giuliani. That linked the Attorney General with the campaign of Trump’s attorney, who is now under investigation by Federal prosecutors.
Trump: “Lowlife Reporters”
Trump’s inner circle insist that the two men are still on good terms. A “senior administration official” said Trump praised Barr publicly and privately on Wednesday. Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley declared: “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.”
Trump was far less measured in several tweets:
The Amazon Washington Post and three lowlife reporters, Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, and Carol Leonnig, wrote another Fake News story, without any sources (pure fiction), about Bill Barr & myself. We both deny this story, which they knew before they wrote it. A garbage newspaper!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2019
But as soon as the Trump-Zelenskiy transcript was released, Barr distanced himself from any involvement in the pressure on Ukraine, including the demand for an investigation of Biden and his son Hunter, a board member with the largest Ukrainian private gas company, Burisma. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said at the time:
The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine — on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine — on this or any other subject.
Trump’s position was also undercut yesterday by The New York Times’ confirmation of the story, from “the person who was told” of the request for Barr to hold a press conference.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Thursday about the reports.