President Donald Trump attempted to interfere with the case against Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and fixer, by installing a loyalist to oversee it, according to a new report from The New York Times.
Following the abrupt departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November, Trump reportedly dialed his newly installed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to ask whether U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman could be placed in charge of the Cohen investigation. The outlet cited several “American officials” with knowledge of the call.
Berman had been chosen by Trump to lead the New York district and seemed a safe choice for the president; he donated $5,400 to the Trump campaign in 2016.
Yet Berman was also recused from the Cohen investigation, as Whitaker reportedly reminded Trump. He had stepped aside months before, prior to the April 2018 FBI raid on Cohen’s home and offices.
“The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker,” the Times reported, stating that Trump subsequently bashed Whitaker for not being able to “pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.”
Cohen was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in December for crimes committed as Trump’s attorney. Charges included campaign finance violations for hush money payments made to two women who say they had affairs with Trump.
The president denied the Times’ story on Tuesday. Faced with the question of whether he once asked Whitaker about the recusal matter in the Cohen case, Trump said he did not.
“I don’t know who gave you that,” he told reporters before tacking on a favorite defense. “That’s more fake news. There’s a lot of fake news out there.”
If true, however, the incident could prove harmful to Whitaker, who testified before the House judiciary committee about Trump earlier this month. Whitaker told Congress that the president had never interfered with any investigations.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said Tuesday that Whitaker stands by his testimony, stating: “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.’”
Per The New York Times, Whitaker is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.
Trump announced Whitaker’s appointment to acting attorney general on Nov. 7 of last year, when Sessions’ forced resignation was revealed. The Senate confirmed William Barr ― who previously served as attorney general ― to the post once again last week.