The Washington Post is reporting that Donald Trump wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to put an end to impeachment proceedings by holding a press conference declaring him innocent of any legal wrongdoing, a step that not even Barr would apparently take. Not yet, at least.
The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr’s demurral to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say.
In recent weeks, the Justice Department has sought some distance from the White House, particularly on matters relating to the burgeoning controversy over Trump’s dealings on Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry they sparked.
People close to the administration say Barr and Trump remain on good terms. A senior administration official said Trump praised the attorney general publicly and privately Wednesday, and deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement: “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.”
But those close to the administration also concede that the department has made several recent maneuvers putting it at odds with the White House at a particularly precarious time for the president. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the politically fraught situation.
The request for the news conference came sometime around Sept. 25, when the administration released a rough transcript of the president’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The document showed that Trump urged Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter — while dangling a possible White House visit for the foreign leader.
By then, a whistleblower complaint about the call had moved congressional Democrats to launch the impeachment inquiry, and the administration was on the defensive. As the rough transcript was released, a Justice Department spokeswoman said officials had evaluated it and the whistleblower complaint to see whether campaign finance laws had been broken, determined that none had been and decided “no further action was warranted.”
It was not immediately clear why Barr would not go beyond that statement with a televised assertion that the president broke no laws, nor was it clear how forcefully the president’s desire was communicated. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. A senior administration official said, “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.”
From the moment the administration released the rough transcript, Barr made clear that whatever the president was up to, he was not a party to it.
Though the rough transcript shows Trump offering Zelensky the services of his attorney general to aid investigations of Biden and his son, a Barr spokeswoman said that Barr and Trump had never discussed that.
“The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former vice president Biden or his son,” spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement released at the same time as the rough transcript. “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.”
Now this could very well be kayfabe rope-a-dope, but it seems to me that Barr is really, really going out of his way to avoid this whole Ukraine thing, and let's remember Trump fired Jeff Sessions because he wouldn't get involved in the Mueller probe. Barr could pull another stunt but he hasn't yet.
My assumption is that Barr feels he doesn't have to interfere and that Mitch McConnell will "take care" of things for Trump. But it sure doesn't keep Trump from complaining about "his" Attorney General.
The real reason I think is that Barr is involved in this Ukraine business far more than anyone wants to admit, so if he keeps his mouth shut and lays low, he figures he'll be okay.
Of course, Trump and "keeping his mouth shut" rarely happens.