President Donald Trump on Wednesday slammed a New York Times report he asked then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker if a U.S. attorney who was loyal to him could oversee the investigation into hush money payments as ‘false’ and proclaimed the newspaper the ‘enemy of the people.’
‘The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!,’ Trump tweeted.
Democrats pounced on the bombshell report from The New York Times with one lawmaker saying, if it were true, Trump was unfit for office and should resign.
President Trump slammed a New York Times report as ‘false’
President Donald Trump asked then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker if a U.S. attorney he appointed could oversee a hush money probe
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testifying before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month
‘If this disturbing New York Times report is accurate, then the President of the United States committed obstruction of justice,’ Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell said in a statement. ‘That the President would seek to impede a criminal investigation in his home Manhattan makes abundantly clear, yet again, that Congress must see his business and personal tax records. Any leader of this nation that seeks to tamper with a criminal investigation is unfit to serve and must resign.’
And Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the report on Trump’s actions is part of a ‘pattern of obstruction.’
‘Dangling pardons. Attempting to get a prosecutor to unrecuse. Threatening a cooperating witness. False public statements. Encouraging congressional allies to investigate the investigators to protect him. All of it a pattern of obstruction. All of it dangerous to the rule of law,’ he wrote on Twitter.
The report detailed how Trump asked Whitaker if Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally who the president appointed to the job, could be put in charge of the federal prosecutors looking into the president’s role in paying off women during the 2016 campaign.
Berman had already recused himself from overseeing the investigation and it’s unclear what Whitaker did next.
Trump, however, soured on him the way he soured on Whitaker’s predecessor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after Sessions recused himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Sessions became a target of Trump’s fury and a frequent object of humiliation as the president publicly said he wished he hadn’t appointed him and issued multiple tweets attacking his management of the Justice Department.
Sessions resigned after the midterms and Whitaker was named acting attorney general by Trump, who has made it clear he expects loyalty from those he puts in positions of power.
The inquiry into the hush money payments is run by Robert Khuzami, a career prosecutor who took over after Berman recused himself from the probe due to a conflict of interest.
There is no evidence Whitaker intervened, The Times reported, but he did tell some associates at the Justice Department that the prosecutors in New York required ‘adult supervision.’
Last month, in his first and last congressional testimony as acting attorney general, Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee the president had never pressured him over the various investigations focused on his conduct in the 2016 presidential race.
House Democrats are now looking into whether Whitaker committed perjury.
‘Very concerning @NYTimes report about the President’s conduct. One of the many reasons why Matthew Whitaker must come back to @HouseJudiciary to clarify his testimony,’ panel chairman Jerry Nadler tweeted on Tuesday.
President Trump denied the New York Times report on Tuesday.
‘No, I don’t know who gave you that,’ he told reporters in the Oval Office.
‘I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whitaker. I think he’s done a great job. Very very straight shooter,’ he added.
A Justice Department spokeswoman also said the White House had not asked Whitaker to interfere.
‘Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told The Times. ‘Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.’
Trump wanted Geoffrey Berman (center), the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, to oversee the hush money investigation
William Barr was confirmed as the new attorney general last week
Attorney General William Barr was confirmed last week and now heads the Justice Department.
Barr wrote a memo last summer arguing a sitting president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for acts well within his power – like firing an F.B.I. director.
And, the newspaper reported, rank-and-file at Justice hope Barr’s good relations with Trump can help displace some of the fire the president has thrown at them and the FBI.
The president is the focus of three federal investigations: Mueller’s probe of whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election and two investigations being run out of the Southern District of New York: one focusing on the hush money payments made or arranged by then-Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, and another examining the flow of foreign money to the Trump inaugural committee.
Cohen was the central figure in a plot to buy the silence of pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, who claimed that she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for $130,000 from Cohen, a transaction that he admitted was a violation of campaign finance laws since it amounted to an illegally large contribution benefiting Trump’s White House hopes.
Trump is the focus of multiple investigations including special counsel Robert Mueller’s (left) Russia probe and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (right)
Nadler said his Judiciary panel needs to hear from Whitaker again
He said in court that Trump directed him to make the payment, suggesting the president was guilty of a crime.
In August Cohen pleaded guilty to eight separate charges related to tax dodges, falsifying bank documents and the campaign finance violations involving Daniels and another woman, former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal.
Cohen claims that at Trump’s request, he arranged for the publisher of The National Enquirer to pay McDougal – another self-described past Trump paramour – for the exclusive rights to her life story. The magazine never published anything, engaging in a practice known as ‘catch and kill’ in order to help Trump avoid new scandals in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
Trump has denied ever having a sexual relationship with either Daniels or McDougal.
Additionally, House Democrats are conducting their own presidential probes that include the role Russia played in the 2016 election but also focusing on Trump’s immigration policy, security clearances for administration staff, and possible conflicts of interest.
Trump previously tried to influence the direction of investigations against him.
He fired FBI director James Comey in May after becoming frustrated Comey refused to say publicly that the president was not under investigation.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, plead guilty to arranging hush money payments
Cohen also played a role in hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels (left) and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal (right)
A week later The New York Times reported Trump had asked Comey to end the investigation into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and what meetings Flynn had with Russian officials.
The next day Mueller was appointed special counsel.
The president’s defenders argue he is acting in his role as head of the executive branch and additionally point out the president has been so public in his arder against his investigators that there couldn’t possibly be a conspiracy.
One of Trump’s favorite arguments – that he repeatedly tweets – is that he is the victim of a ‘witch hunt.’
The Times report was part of a long look the paper conducted into the president’s behavior during the investigations against him.