At an event in Memphis about a Justice Department crackdown on gun violence, a reporter inquired, “Mr. Attorney General, did the president ask you to publicly defend him regarding the Ukrainian call, and if so, why did you not want to do that?”
“If you’re talking about press reports that he asked me to have a news conference, the fact is, I don’t remember any such request,” Barr said. “In fact, my recollection is that I told the White House that we would do what we would normally do, and that is issue a press statement, which we did, and that was not an issue. There was no pushback on that.”
The statement is the first time Barr has addressed a Washington Post report, later confirmed by other media outlets, that Trump wanted Barr to hold a news conference declaring the president had broken no laws during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump pressed Zelensky on the call to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript released by the administration.
Barr declined the request, which went from Trump to other White House officials and — eventually — to the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter said last week. The Trump-Zelensky call and a related whistleblower complaint sparked House Democrats to launch an inquiry into whether Trump should be impeached.
Though Barr did not hold a news conference, a Justice Department spokeswoman issued a written statement when the rough transcript of the call was released saying officials had reviewed the record and determined Trump broke no campaign finance laws.
Barr’s comments on the matter are less specific and forceful than those of his boss. The president has derided The Post report as “Fake News” and claimed he and his attorney general “both deny this story.”
“Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine,” Trump wrote on Twitter a day after the report was published. “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.”
Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron responded at the time with a statement saying the newspaper “fully stands behind its story.”