Trump goes into battle mode on impeachment
The president’s frustration with the impeachment inquiry reached new and profane heights.
President Donald Trump went into battle mode on Wednesday, lobbing insults at his Democratic investigators, tussling with reporters, and dismissing the impeachment probe and other oversight efforts as “bullshit.”
Barely a week into formal impeachment proceedings, the president spent hours airing his frustrations and sharpening his attack lines.
“The Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLSHIT,” he wrote in a tweet on Wednesday morning, moments after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff warned in a press briefing of the dangers the White House faced if it stonewalled their requests for documents and witnesses.
Trump fired off retorts to their news conference in real time, and the rapid-fire, profane response signaled the beginning of a more aggressive posture from the president that had largely been absent for the past week and continued to play out throughout the day.
The newly combative tack overshadowed Wednesday’s visit to the White House from Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, during which Trump accused Schiff, without evidence, of helping author the whistleblower complaint at the heart of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, belittled Schiff with locker room rhetoric, and denounced as “rude” an American reporter for asking follow-up questions at a news conference.
But it came as the impeachment inquiry that Pelosi only formally announced a week ago has progressed rapidly since the White House’s release of its account of a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In the now infamous call, Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Biden is among the top candidates vying to run against Trump next year.
The probe stems from a whistleblower complaint filed by a member of the intelligence community citing that call. And Democrats, pointing to Trump’s decision around the same time to withhold military aid from Ukraine, suggested the conversation may have contained a quid pro quo, though no such offer is explicitly made, according to the White House’s account of the phone call.
Trump’s branding of Schiff as a “lowlife” who could be charged with treason came before news broke that the Intelligence chairman had been given a heads-up about the whistleblower’s concerns before the complaint was filed in August.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office alongside Finland’s president, Trump managed to partially censor himself in a crude attack on Schiff, who at the time had just finished criticizing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on national television.
“He is a shifty dishonest guy who was critical of one of the great secretary of States. … The most honorable person, Mike Pompeo, and this guy was negative on Mike Pompeo. He can’t — you know there’s an expression, he couldn’t carry his blank strap,” Trump said, apparently self-bleeping “jock strap.”
“I won’t say it,” he went on, “because they’ll say it was so terrible to say, but that guy couldn’t carry his blank strap, do you understand that?”
Early Wednesday morning, Pompeo had confirmed that he was on the July phone call with Trump and Zelensky after initially playing down any knowledge of what was discussed on the call.
Pompeo also stoked Democrats’ ire by appearing to accuse them on Tuesday of intimidating career employees at the State Department and by suggesting several potential witnesses could decline to appear for depositions with lawmakers.
Democrats have moved forward quickly with their probe, hitting Trump and his allies with a number of subpoenas over the past week, and Trump has continued to lash out, calling their investigations an attempt at a “coup.” Schiff on Wednesday made clear he would not put up with stonewalling by the White House, telling reporters that doing so would be considered evidence of obstruction in any eventual articles of impeachment.
In a news conference with Niinistö later in the afternoon, Trump professed that he would cooperate with Democratic subpoenas while condemning their oversight efforts as “a fraudulent crime on the American people.”
“I always cooperate,” Trump proclaimed Wednesday afternoon when asked how he planned to respond to the flurry of subpoenas, though he maintained that Democrats were perpetuating “a hoax, the greatest hoax.”
An antagonistic Trump sparred with multiple reporters as they attempted to ask follow-up questions, only easing up in one instance when Fox News’ John Roberts asked about The New York Times’ report on Schiff’s prior knowledge of the whistleblower’s existence.
“I think it’s a scandal that he knew before, and I’d go a step further,” Trump said after praising Roberts’ line of questioning. “I think he probably helped write it.”
The Times report, which came out moments before Trump’s news conference, indicates no such thing; according to the Times, Schiff was made aware of the outlines of the future whistleblower’s concerns when the anonymous intel official approached an aide for the House Intelligence Committee.
“It’s a scam,” Trump asserted. “Just to finish on this — I appreciate it, I love the second question, by the way, should’ve asked it first — but let me just say, the whole thing is a scam.”
In recent days, Trump demanded Schiff’s resignation while claiming the congressman and the anonymous whistleblower could both be guilty of treason. He repeated those attacks throughout much of the day Wednesday, telling reporters that “I have a lot of respect for whistleblowers but only when they are real.”
He asserted the whistleblower’s secondhand account of Trump’s call with Zelensky “was totally different than the fact,” despite the whistleblower’s summation largely tracking with the White House’s rough transcript.
Shortly after, a Finnish reporter drew gasps and laughs in the room when she asked her president, “because it is the biggest issue here at the moment,” if he could detail what kinds of favors Trump had asked him for.
Trump narrowed his eyes and cut in: “Or the other way around, you mean.”
And a question from Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason about what Trump considers treasonous set the president off on a rant during which he said that “believe it or not, I watch my words very carefully,” asserted “there are those who think I’m a very stable genius,” and predicted that he “probably will be bringing a lot of litigation” against those who participated in the Russia investigation.
He hit Pelosi for handing out subpoenas “like they’re cookies” compared with how former Speaker Paul Ryan handled subpoena requests.
When Mason tried to press Trump for a direct answer on how he intended Zelensky to act on requests to investigate the Bidens, Trump continued to dodge, demanding that Mason move on and ask Niinistö a question.
“Did you hear me?” Trump interrupted. “Ask him a question. I’ve given you a long answer. Ask this gentleman a question. Don’t be rude.”
“No, sir. I don’t want to be rude, I just wanted you to have a chance to answer the question that I asked you,” Mason responded, getting cut off by Trump once again.
“I’ve answered everything. It’s a whole hoax. And you know who’s playing into the hoax? People like you and the fake news media that we have in this country and I say in many cases the corrupt media because you’re corrupt. Much of the media in this country is not just fake. It’s corrupt. You have some very fine people, too. Great journalists, great reporters. But to a large extent it’s corrupt and it’s fake,” Trump implored. “Ask the president of Finland a question please.”
When Mason relented, Trump then cut in to offer a response to Mason’s question for Niinistö before allowing the Finnish president to answer.