Donald Trump has angrily denied a report by The Washington Post that William Barr, the attorney general, refused his request to clear him of breaking the law in a telephone call with Ukraine’s president.
“The story was a Fake Washington Post con job with an ‘anonymous’ source that doesn’t exist,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
“Just read the Transcript. The Justice Department already ruled that the call was good. We don’t have freedom of the press!”
And branding the impeachment inquiry ”a hoax”, he called for it to be ended immediately.
Mr Trump had asked Mr Barr to declare that the US president had not broken any laws when he spoke by phone to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the newspaper reported.
During the call, which is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, the US leader pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, Democratic former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, but Mr Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post.
However, Mr Trump tweeted: “Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine,” and took a swipe at the press.
He added: “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!”
In a string of tweets, he went on: “Based on the information released last night about the Fake Whistleblowers attorney, the Impeachment Hoax should be ended IMMEDIATELY! There is no case, except against the other side!”
Users promptly disagreed with his attacks on the media. Nick Jack Pappas, a comedy writer, responded: “We do have freedom of the press, actually. It’s in the Constitution, that thing you’ve never read.
“Should we believe experienced journalists or the guy who has lied over 14,000 times since he took office? Thank God we still have a free press.”
Hours earlier, Mr Trump had written: “The story in the Amazon Washington Post, of course picked up by Fake News CNN, saying ‘President Trump asked for AG Barr to host a news conference clearing him on Ukraine,’ is totally untrue and just another FAKE NEWS story with anonymous sources that don’t exist.”
The row began after an intelligence whistleblower had pointed to the call between the two leaders as evidence that Mr Trump had tried to enlist a foreign power to help him in the 2020 presidential election.
In response, the 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”.
He had wanted Mr Barr to personally deliver the message to the media that the president had done nothing wrong. The request was in late September, around the time when the White House released a partial transcript of the leaders’ discussion.
The document showed that Mr Trump hinted at the prospect of a possible White House visit for the foreign leader.
Advisers say the president has mentioned Barr’s demurral to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, according to the Post.
But people close to the administration say Barr and Trump remain on good terms. Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, 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.”
Mr Barr had been involved in the decision to release the transcript of the call between Mr Trump and Mr Zelenskiy, 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, and made clear that whatever the president was up to, he was not a party to it.
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