President Donald Trump denied asking then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about putting a sympathetic U.S. attorney in charge of an investigation into pre-election hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with him.
Trump responded to a New York Times report that the president asked Whitaker if Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, could oversee the investigation into the payments made during the 2016 campaign. Whitaker knew he could not put Berman in charge of the investigation, from which Berman had already recused himself, the Times reported.
Taking questions from reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump flatly denied making any such inquiry.
“No, not at all, I don’t know who gave you that," Trump told reporters Tuesday, after taking a noticeable pause. "That’s more fake news. There's a lot of fake news out there.”
Trump went on to praise Whitaker, who was replaced by William Barr last Thursday.
"He's a very fine man and he should be given a lot of thanks by our nation," Trump said Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors at the time of Trump's reported request were investigating hush money paid by Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to women who claimed to have had sex with the president. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison last year for multiple counts of lying and tax fraud.
The Times' Tuesday report went on to say Trump grew irritated with Whitaker that he could not use connections at the Justice Department to put the investigation into more sympathetic hands. Whitaker denied to the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8 that the White House ever asked him to tamper with an investigation.
"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," Whitaker said during the committee hearing.
The Justice Department further denied to the Times that Trump had asked Whitaker to interfere in the investigation, citing his remarks to the House committee.
"Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony," Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told the Times.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine