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Then-acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker shaking President Trump's hand. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump late last year called acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to ask whether a Trump-appointed attorney could "unrecuse" himself in order to lead the Southern District of New York's investigation into hush money payments during the 2016 election, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: There is no indication that Whitaker took any steps to appoint Trump ally Geoffrey Berman to lead the investigation, which had ensnared the president's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen. But Whitaker, who has reportedly told colleagues that part of his job was to "jump on a grenade" for the president, testified to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month that Trump had never pressured him to intervene in any investigation.

  • House Democrats are now pursuing a formal deposition of Whitaker as they scrutinize whether he committed perjury.
  • Asked Tuesday whether the "unrecusal" conversation with Whitaker ever occurred, Trump responded: "No, not at all. I don’t know who gave you that. That's more fake news."

The big picture: The Times piece reveals a number of unreported incidents over the course of the two last years that shed light on Trump's extensive efforts to derail the various investigations that threaten his presidency.

  • After former national security adviser Michael Flynn was fired for lying about his contacts with Russian officials, Trump directed then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer to tell reporters that the president asked for his resignation — which the White House counsel later concluded was misleading.
  • In the summer of 2017, after the president threatened to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, one of Trump's lawyers reportedly reached out to attorneys for Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to discuss possible pardons.

The bottom line: There are more than 1,100 instances of Trump publicly attacking the Russia investigations. This, the Times notes, has been "a public relations strategy as much as a legal strategy."

Go deeper

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.