Trump blasts Democrats as impeachment talk heats up
A livid Trump abruptly shut down a White House meeting with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, announcing he could not deal with them on policy until “phony investigations” are brought to a close.
The clash marked a dramatic escalation in Trump’s war of words with congressional opponents seeking to bring him to account for what they say is presidential wrongdoing.
Trump’s ire was seemingly triggered by House Speaker Pelosi, his nemesis in Congress, who declared following an emergency meeting with lawmakers earlier Wednesday: “We believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover up.”
“I don’t do cover-ups,” Trump shot back at a hastily arranged Rose Garden press event, moments after the aborted talks.
“So get these phony investigations over with,” Trump said — warning a failure to do so would spell gridlock on issues like fixing the country’s infrastructure, on which the two sides had hoped for a breakthrough on Wednesday.
A two-year investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election concluded there was no hard evidence Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.
But the prosecutor said he could not rule clearly on whether Trump obstructed justice, leaving it to the Trump-appointed attorney general, Bill Barr, to declare there was no obstruction.
The Democrats’ decision to pursue the grey areas of the investigation — and their open discussion of whether to pursue the politically perilous process of impeachment — has enraged Trump.
“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he tweeted Wednesday, as he stepped up his attacks on the probes.
Any pretense of cooperation on policy issues evaporated as Trump and Pelosi locked political horns, with the issue of impeachment inching toward center stage in Washington.
Speaking after she left the White House, Pelosi charged that Trump could have committed an “impeachable” offense by ignoring congressional subpoenas connected to the Mueller probe, likening it to the “cover-up” that brought down former president Richard Nixon.
“This president is obstructing justice and he’s engaged in a cover-up,” she said. “And that could be an impeachable offense.”
– Pursuing gray areas –
Democrats argue that Barr is protecting the president, in part by refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas — although on Wednesday the House Intelligence Committee’s chairman said the Justice Department had agreed to begin honoring a subpoena for material related to Mueller’s probe.
Despite her accusation of a cover-up, Pelosi has been mindful of the politically-charged nature of an impeachment move ahead of a 2020 presidential election, especially one that is likely to fail in the Republican-led Senate.
She has argued in favor of keeping the focus on educating the public through the court process and congressional probes to “get the truth and facts to the American people,” rather than leaping to impeachment.
The issue has divided Democrats for months. Even as some in Congress — and several Democratic presidential contenders — are eager to assert its historical oversight powers as a check against the executive, there is a concern the tactic could backfire, energizing Trump’s base ahead of the election.
“He’s really trying to goad Congress into impeaching him,” congressman Peter Welch, a member of Democratic leadership, told CNN.
Pelosi and Schumer meanwhile offered their own scathing descriptions of Wednesday’s heated scene.
Schumer called the dramatic cancellation of the meeting “a pre-planned excuse” and said “what happened in the White House makes your jaw drop.”
Likewise suggesting Trump manufactured the row to avoid committing to an enormously expensive infrastructure bill, Pelosi said: “I pray for the president of the United States.”