President Trump on Tuesday denied a report that he asked former acting Atty. Gen. Matthew Whitaker if an ally could undo his recusal in an investigation of his former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.
Longtime Trump ally Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, had already recused himself from the Cohen case at the point of Trump’s request. But the president wanted him to oversee an investigation of Trump, Cohen and payments made during the 2016 campaign to several women to keep them quiet about alleged extramarital affairs with Trump.
The New York Times first reported the alleged request, citing “several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.”
“No,” the president said when asked about the report during a space policy event in the Oval Office, “I don’t know who gave you that.”
Meantime, Trump also suggested independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is wasting his time making a second run at the Democratic presidential nomination.
“Personally, I think he missed his time. On trade, [we] would sort of agree on trade. I wish Bernie well. It will be interesting to see how he does,” Trump said, before adding that Sanders “was not treated with respect” by eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Ahead of his second summit Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump said he had spoken with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to strategize earlier in the day. He intends to speak with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe soon about the fast-approaching meeting.
But, as he has in recent days, Trump sought to downplay expectations that anything close to a final deal will be forged next week in Hanoi.
“I’m in no particular rush,” the president told reporters.
What’s more, Trump again signaled a willingness to extend a March 1 deadline, when tariffs on Chinese goods are slated to swell from 10% to 25%.
“I can’t tell you exactly about timing, the date is not a magical date because a lot of things are happening,” he said. “We’ll see what happens…. The talks have gone very, very well.”
But on the latter claim, his negotiators have declined to describe just what has gone well, or on what specific issues Chinese officials have budged in recent months. As recently as late last year, senior administration officials had said Beijing was well aware of U.S. demands, but it had shown little willingness to alter behaviors Trump calls “unfair.”
The president also predicted he will “do very well” in court fights over his authority to declare a national emergency at the southern border and access Pentagon and Treasury Department monies for his border barrier project.
“I think I called it exactly … including that the fact that they would put it in through the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals),” as he predicted Friday.
“I think we’ll do very well,” Trump said Tuesday. “We have an absolute right to do that…. I have the absolute right to call a national emergency.”
Trump also made clear his marketing about the border structure will shift back to calling it a wall.
“I could call it a barrier, but I don’t think we have to do that so much anymore,” he told reporters several weeks after shifting to “barrier,” in his words, to give Democrats “an out” to give him funds for the project.
They still refer to his proposal as a “wall,” but contend they approved funds only for “fencing,” even though both sides have long said they are fine with a bollard-style structure.