WASHINGTON — President Trump asked that Attorney General William P. Barr hold a news conference to declare that he had broken no laws in a telephone call with Ukraine's president that is now at the heart of the Democratic impeachment inquiry, but Mr. Barr declined, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
Mr. Trump's request came shortly after the White House released a reconstructed transcript of a July 25 call in which the president pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to launch investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats. An intelligence whistle-blower pointed to the call as evidence that the president had tried to enlist a foreign power to help him in the 2020 presidential election, and House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into whether the president's conduct warranted his removal from office.
Mr. Trump, who has aggressively pushed Republicans and administration officials to say he did nothing wrong, has repeatedly said the call was "perfect." In the days after the reconstructed transcript was released to the public, the White House told the Justice Department of Mr. Trump's desire for Mr. Barr to appear publicly, according to the person who was told of it. The request was first reported by The Washington Post.
The president wanted Mr. Barr to personally deliver the message to the news media that Mr. Trump had done nothing wrong, much as he did in a news conference he held shortly before the release of the report by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, according to a person with knowledge of the events.
It was hardly the first time that Mr. Trump has sought to pressure his chief law enforcement official to defend him more aggressively in the face of what he considered an existential crisis. The president never got over his rage at Jeff Sessions, his former attorney general, for recusing himself from Mr. Mueller's investigation, and tried repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — to get Mr. Sessions to insert himself into that inquiry on Mr. Trump's behalf.
And to people close to Mr. Trump, the request was also reminiscent of what he wanted James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director at the time, to say publicly about whether the president was personally under investigation as the bureau looked at a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials in 2016. Mr. Comey had told the president that he was not personally under investigation, but Mr. Trump wanted the F.B.I. director to publicly clear his name. Mr. Comey declined, which he has said was because he did not want to have to take that declaration back if circumstances changed.
That refusal by Mr. Comey was part of what soured his relationship with Mr. Trump, and he was fired in dramatic fashion in May 2017.
After the release of the whistle-blower complaint about the Ukraine call, a Justice Department spokeswoman put out a statement saying that the criminal division had reviewed the official record of the conversation and determined that "there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted." That satisfied Mr. Trump, according to one of the people with knowledge of what took place, and aides were able to redirect his concerns.
Mr. Barr had been involved in the decision to release the transcript of the call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, according to multiple White House officials, and a Justice Department official said at the time that he supported the idea of being transparent. But Mr. Barr decided against holding the news conference.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.
Hogan Gidley, a deputy White House press secretary, said, "The president has nothing but respect for A.G. 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."
At various points since the impeachment inquiry began, Mr. Trump has complained that people in his administration have not done more to defend him, multiple people close to the president said. The president's complaint prompted Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to try to defend Mr. Trump at an appearance in front of reporters last month.
During that briefing, Mr. Mulvaney initially acknowledged the existence of a quid pro quo linking military assistance for Ukraine to the country's willingness to start investigations Mr. Trump demanded, before insisting several hours later that he had not said that.
Democratic investigators in the House have spent the past several weeks methodically trying to build a case for impeachment that goes well beyond the July 25 call, interviewing current and former administration officials who have testified to the existence of a shadow diplomatic effort aimed at pressuring Ukraine.
But Mr. Trump's telephone call with Mr. Zelensky remains the most direct evidence of the president's involvement. During the call, Mr. Zelensky thanked Mr. Trump for delivering military aid to help in their fight against Russian aggression, including anti-tank weapons.
"I would like you to do us a favor, though," Mr. Trump responded, shifting the conversation toward investigating Democrats and urging Mr. Zelensky that he work with Mr. Barr and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer.
Mr. Barr has been investigating the origins of the Russia investigation that Mr. Trump has long called "a hoax." The attorney general appointed the United States attorney John H. Durham to look in to how the Mueller inquiry began and whether the intelligence community did anything improper related to collecting information about the Trump campaign.
The president has repeatedly called for an inquiry into the Russia investigators, and Mr. Barr's willingness to pursue it over the past several months has pleased Mr. Trump and helped cement what people close to the two men say is a good relationship between them.
But critics of Mr. Barr have accused him of lacking the independence from the White House that is traditional for the nation's top law enforcement official.
New York Times, November 6, 2019
Michael D. Shear, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman from New York. Katie Benner contributed reporting from Washington.
The original article used the headline, Mr Trump asked the Attorney General to say no laws were broken in the Ukraine call. He said no.
November 7, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. A Criminal is a Criminal is Donald Trump. This is just another proof that Trump has no boundaries in the ways he lies and cheats the American people. #ImpeachRemove