U.S. President Donald Trump denied Wednesday that he had urged Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference clearing him of any illegal acts in a July phone call with Ukraine’s president.
The Washington Post reported that Trump made the request, which Barr declined, around the time the White House released a rough transcript of the call in which Trump urged President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The Justice Department issued a statement saying the call did not break any campaign finance laws and “no further action was warranted.”
According to the Post, which cited Trump advisers and people familiar with the matter, Trump has in recent weeks said he wished Barr would have held a news conference.
Trump used Twitter late Wednesday to reject the Post’s reporting. He described it as “totally untrue and just another FAKE NEWS story with anonymous sources that don’t exist.”
The Justice Department has not commented. But a senior administration official says any report that there is tension because there was a statement but no news conference is “completely false.”
A whistleblower’s concern about the July Trump-Zelenskiy phone call led to the current House impeachment inquiry into Trump and whether he withheld military aid to Ukraine unless Zelenskiy publicly committed to investigating Biden for alleged corruption.
House committees Wednesday released a transcript of last month’s testimony by Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor. According to the transcript, Taylor told the committees it was his “clear understanding” that Ukraine would not get military assistance Trump was withholding unless it launched investigations against Biden and the Democrats.
For weeks, Trump has denied a quid pro quo arrangement with Ukraine.
But Taylor testified that the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, repeatedly told him that while Trump did not see it as a quid pro quo, “I observed that, in order to move forward on the security assistance the Ukrainians were told by Ambassador Sondland that they had to pursue the investigations.”
“That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until (Zelenskiy) committed to pursue the investigation,” Taylor said.
The release of Taylor’s testimony came as a high-ranking State Department official, David Hale, testified Wednesday about the ouster of America’s former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was viewed by some Trump aides as an impediment to getting Kyiv to open the investigation of Biden and his son Hunter.
A career diplomat, Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled from Kyiv earlier this year and dismissed from her post months ahead of the scheduled end of her tour.
Trump, in a late July call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, described her as “bad news.” But State Department officials had told her she had not done anything wrong and, before her dismissal, had requested she extend her tour into 2020.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer, had pressed for Yovanovitch’s ouster and for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
While Hale testified, three other Trump administration officials — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, acting White House budget chief Russell Vought and another State Department aide, Ulrich Brechtbuhl — defied congressional demands that they testify before the impeachment inquiry led by the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees in the House of Representatives.
Trump has been somewhat successful in getting key officials to defy subpoenas and not testify in the rapidly expanding impeachment inquiry. But several national security and diplomatic officials, including some still on the government payroll, have told impeachment panels that Trump was at the center of efforts pressing for the Ukraine investigations to help him politically.
It is against U.S. campaign finance laws to ask a foreign government for help in an American election.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and described his call with Zelenskiy as “perfect.” Republican lawmakers defending Trump say the fact that the military aid was released to Ukraine proves there was no reciprocal agreement with Ukraine.