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 TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report 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 KrishnamoorthiEx-Ukraine ambassador testifies in impeachment hearing: Five things to watch Sondland emerges as key target after Vindman testimony Ex-Trump official's refusal to testify escalates impeachment tensions 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 DemingsHaley: Giuliani should've been named 'special envoy' to Ukraine Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight House Democrat: Trump 'dangerously abused his oath of office' 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 SessionsTo understand death behind bars, we need more information White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations The Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field 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 ComeyChris Wallace on Yovanovitch testimony: 'If you're not moved, you don't have a pulse' Day one impeachment hearings draw 13.1M viewers, down 32 percent from Comey hearings There are poor ideas, bad ones and Facebook's Libra 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 PascrellHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Dem lawmakers ask Twitter how it will guard against census disinformation Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm 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 CollinsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Former Ukraine envoy offers dramatic testimony GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse House to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members 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 McCabeThe curious timeline for taking down Trump Federal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Brendan Gleeson lands Trump role in CBS miniseries based on Comey memoir MORE and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinDemocrats ask judge to force McGahn to comply with subpoena Democrats ask court to force DOJ's hand on Mueller grand jury materials Washington celebrates diplomacy — and baseball — at Meridian Ball 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 SwalwellTrump attacks Pence aide who called Ukraine call 'inappropriate' Top Pence aide told lawmakers Trump's Ukraine call was 'inappropriate' in closed-door testimony New witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary panels, told The Hill.