Dems seize on Times bombshell to push allegations of Trump obstruction

Democrats are seizing on a bombshell New York Times report as further evidence that President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE may have sought to obstruct justice in investigations of his campaign and administration.

The Times reported Tuesday that the president asked then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker late last year to put U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in charge of the investigation into Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to bank fraud, tax fraud and making payments to silence women alleging that they had affairs with Trump.

Berman, an ally of Trump who donated to his 2016 campaign, had recused himself from the case, and Whitaker did not act on Trump's request, according to the report — which Trump has denied.

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Democrats claim it is just the latest example of Trump trying to sway an investigation by influencing the investigator.

“If [the Times report is] true, I cannot understand what other motive there would be for putting someone like Mr. Berman in charge of these investigations other than to kind of help steer the prosecution in a way that’s more favorable to Mr. Trump,” Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiThe Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill MORE (D-Ill.) told The Hill.

“Basically it comes down to whether you believe he wanted something like this to happen to further the interest of justice or to further his own interests, and ... given everything we’ve seen, I don’t think it takes a leap of faith to believe that he would’ve done this to further his own interests,” added Krishnamoorthi, a member of the House Oversight and Reform and House Intelligence committees.

Other Democrats described a pattern of actions they deemed inappropriate.

“I think if you just follow the number of incidences and evidence that has been presented involving the president and the Russia investigation and the investigation in the Southern District in New York and others, I think it clearly shows a pattern that the president has tried to use his influence and/or relationship to really interfere with the investigation,” said Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence Trump officials say children of some service members overseas will not get automatic citizenship Trump takes post-Mueller victory lap MORE (D-Fla.).

Demings, a former law enforcement officer, said Trump’s decision to tap Whitaker, who was seen as a Trump loyalist, to replace former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLewandowski says he's under no obligation to speak truthfully to the media Nadler considering holding Lewandowski in contempt Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE as one example in which he has appeared to put his thumb on investigations.

Other Democrats pointed to the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyWe've lost sight of the real scandal Former Obama officials willing to testify on McCabe's behalf: report House Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe MORE in May 2017.

“If this disturbing New York Times report is accurate, then the President of the United States committed obstruction of justice,” Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellOn The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes GOP lawmaker calls for investigation into CNN spy story Ocasio-Cortez renews impeachment call amid probe involving Trump's Scotland property MORE (D-N.J.) said in a statement on Tuesday.

The White House has denied that Trump sought to put Berman in charge of the Cohen investigation.

“I don’t know who gave you that,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, dismissing the story as “more fake news.”

Trump went a step further on Wednesday, decrying The New York Times as “a true enemy of the people” and calling its reporting “false.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said in a statement that the White House has not asked Whitaker to interfere in investigations, citing his congressional testimony earlier this month in which he clashed with House Democrats.

“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 said. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”

Demings, who said Whitaker gave “inappropriate or incomplete” responses during his Capitol Hill appearance, called his testimony “pitiful” and “combative.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the House Judiciary Committee’s chairman, has called on Whitaker to clarify his testimony.

“Although the Committee appreciates your decision to appear, Members on both sides of the aisle found many of your answers to be unsatisfactory, incomplete, or contradicted by other evidence,” he said in a statement last week.

Whether Whitaker appears, Demings said, “still remains to be seen.”

Republicans say there is another pressing matter that should be examined: whether top officials at the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) seriously considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.

In particular, Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers ramp up Silicon Valley antitrust probe | Treasury sanctions North Korean cyber groups | Thiel to host Kobach fundraiser MORE (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and other Republicans say they want to hear from former Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeWe've lost sight of the real scandal Former Obama officials willing to testify on McCabe's behalf: report Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate MORE and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinHouse Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict US attorney recommends moving forward with charges against McCabe after DOJ rejects his appeal MORE under oath.  

McCabe, who has been making the rounds on the cable news shows to promote his new book, has publicly claimed in recent days that Rosenstein met with other top officials to discuss invoking the 25th Amendment after the president fired Comey.

“What’s important to note here is that there are legitimate concerns about things we know happened among top law enforcement at the DOJ and FBI,” said one Republican aide on the House Judiciary Committee. “The FBI was concerned enough to fire McCabe and Strzok for their behavior — those decisions weren’t made by the White House. Americans expect Congress to conduct oversight over the Justice Department, and it’s clear the DOJ needs that accountability right now.” The aide was referencing Peter Strzok, a former FBI agent who was fired for writing anti-Trump text messages.

Other Democrats suggested subsequent testimony from Whitaker is just the first step in examining the claims made in the Times report.

“I think we certainly need to have Mr. Whitaker back, we need to have him under subpoena and we need to press to find out what exactly the president was doing and add that to the list of things that have to be investigated if the rule of law is going to stand in our country,” Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate 5 takeaways from fiery Democratic debate MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary panels, told The Hill.