Democratic senators, including Kamala Harris, demanded Friday that the Department of Justice hand over documents related to a reported attempt by President Trump to get Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference declaring he hadn’t broken any laws in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Sens. Harris, D-Calif., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Barr after The Washington Post reported that Trump made the request around Sept. 25, when the administration released a transcript of the call.
The outlet reported that Trump has told associates he wished Barr would have held the news conference, amid the escalating House impeachment probe surrounding the call. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Trump’s desire for a public announcement from Barr was discussed among White House officials, who in turn relayed that desire to the Justice Department. However, the outlet reported that it couldn’t be determined how hard Trump had pressed for a news conference — or the reason for Barr’s denial.
“These reports raise serious concerns about the president’s perception of the Justice Department as a partisan political instrument and his willingness to use the power of federal law enforcement in pursuit of his own objectives,” the senators wrote in the request.
“We submit this FOIA request in order to obtain communications, documents, and other information related to the president’s reported request that you hold a news conference to clear him of wrongdoing during his call with the Ukrainian president,” the request said.
House Democrats claim that the call, in which Trump urged Zelensky to “look into” allegations about former Vice President Joe Biden and alleged Ukraine interference in the 2016 presidential election, was part of a quid pro quo involving the withholding of U.S. military aid that was temporarily blocked by the White House. Trump has denied a quid quo pro while the Ukrainians have said there was no pressure from the White House.
Trump has also pushed back on the reports.
“Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine,” he tweeted Thursday morning. “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. We don’t have freedom of the press!”
Trump then tweeted a more robust denial: “The degenerate Washington Post MADE UP the story about me asking Bill Barr to hold a news conference. Never happened, and there were no sources!” This, after he tweeted earlier calling the story “totally untrue and just another FAKE NEWS story with anonymous sources that don’t exist.”
The request from the senators calls for all memos and correspondence involving Barr, Deputy Attorney General Jeffery Rosen or the immediate office of the attorney general since August 14 as well as phrases including “Ukraine,” “Zelensky,” “transcript,” “journalists” and “news conference.”
“If President Trump’s passionate assertion that such reports are ‘pure fiction’ and ‘Fake News’ is indeed correct, then the Department of Justice should have no problem in expeditiously processing our request,” the senators wrote.
Fox News’ Jason Donner contributed to this report.