President Donald Trump reportedly asked former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker late last year whether the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, a Trump ally, could take over the investigation into money paid to two women who alleged they had affairs with the President, among other subjects.
According to The New York Times, Trump requested that U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman be put in charge of the investigation that has since resulted in jail time for former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, even though Berman recused himself from the probe.
Whitaker, whose tenure ended last week with the confirmation of Attorney General William Barr, knew Berman could not un-recuse himself, the Times reported. Trump then grew frustrated with Whitaker and the appointee’s inability to address his mounting legal problems.
The Times cited the previously unreported request from Trump as one of several examples of the President seeking to influence the investigations into his presidency, his associates and his business interests.
Asked about the report a short time after it was published, Trump denied he had asked Whitaker to change who was in charge of the investigation into Cohen.
“I don’t know who gave you that,” Trump said, calling the report “fake news.”
He offered praise for Whitaker, calling the former acting attorney general a “very straight shooter” and “a very fine man.”
Department of Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement to The Times that the White House has not asked Whitaker to interfere in investigations.
“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’,” Kupec said. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”
The statement referred to Feb. 8 testimony where Whitaker clashed with Democrats on the House Judiciary panel. The Times reported that House Democrats are now looking into whether Whitaker perjured himself.