Trump defiant in face of impeachment inquiry

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE on Tuesday offered to release a transcript of his call with Ukraine’s president to prove he’d done nothing improper, even as he blasted Democrats for launching an impeachment inquiry and insisted it would lead to his reelection.

Trump branded the inquiry a “continuation of the witch hunt,” reviving his derisive moniker for former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation.

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In the immediate aftermath of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSusan Collins asks postmaster general to address delays of 'critically needed mail' Trump says he'd sign bill funding USPS but won't seek changes to help mail voting On The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' MORE’s (D-Calif.) announcement, he unleashed a cascade of tweets from Trump Tower, where he was taking a break from United Nations meetings. He decried the impeachment move as “presidential harassment” and “Witch Hunt garbage.” He then shared a campaign video that featured clips of various prominent Democrats who had previously expressed openness to impeachment.

He also told reporters at the U.N. General Assembly, where his visit has been completely overshadowed by the Washington controversy, that an inquiry would be a positive for him politically.

“They all say it’s a positive for me,” Trump told reporters, even as he argued it was “bad for the country.”

He ripped Democrats for launching an inquiry before seeing a transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“How can you do this and you haven’t even seen the phone call?” he said.

It’s not clear if Trump thought he could ward off an inquiry by announcing he would release a transcript of his call with Zelensky.

Democrats have been demanding that the administration turn over a whistleblower complaint about the call that acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to give to lawmakers.

Tuesday’s dramatic developments set up a critical period in Trump’s presidency that will include a meeting Wednesday with Zelensky on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting. Trump will also hold a press conference.

On the call with Zelensky, Trump reportedly pressured Ukraine to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against Democratic presidential front-runner and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE and his son, Hunter Biden.

Trump has denied pressuring Zelensky but acknowledged he mentioned Biden on the call, while vociferously defending his actions as completely appropriate and denying the existence of a “quid pro quo.”

The president has been consistently defiant about the prospect of impeachment. He has previously argued that people would “revolt” if it ever came to pass and praised Pelosi for her restraint amid past calls for his removal from office.

As Pelosi’s calculus shifted Tuesday, Trump and his allies appeared to welcome the looming fight.

One former White House official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said they believed impeachment would “backfire” on Democrats.

“I can’t imagine Democrats would be so stupid to hand Republicans a gift like that so close to the election,” the official said. “I’ve always found Pelosi to be a smart strategist, but she might have no choice.”

But some Republicans say Trump is gambling everything with his attacks on Biden.

“I think it’s high-stakes poker and nobody really knows the ultimate winner right now,” said GOP strategist Colin Reed.

“Conventional wisdom has always said that impeachment would be a good thing for Trump because it would rally his base and divide the Democrats,” Reed said, but he added Trump may have “gone over his skis” by betting that collateral damage he’s able to inflict on Biden would outweigh any damage caused to him by impeachment proceedings.

“On a tactical level I think Trump believes this hurts Biden more than him,” said another former White House official.

Some of Trump’s closest aides have advised against releasing the transcript, reasoning it will harm future relations with foreign leaders. But Trump, seeking to clear his name and turn the attention to Biden, ordered the “fully declassified and unredacted” conversation be released.

The Ukraine controversy has played out at light speed compared to the Mueller probe.

The existence of the whistleblower complaint was first revealed on Sept. 13, and Trump acknowledged Sunday that he raised the matter of Biden and corruption during the call with Zelensky.

By Tuesday morning, Trump had confirmed reports that he withheld military aid to Ukraine but said he did so because he wanted European countries to pay more in assistance. The developments have exacerbated concerns among his critics that Trump used the funds as a cudgel over Ukraine to get the country to investigate his political rival — something the president has denied took place in the form of an explicit quid pro quo.

“I want other countries to put up money. I think it’s unfair that we put up the money. Then people called me, they said, ‘Oh, let it go.’ And I let it go,” Trump told reporters, explaining his decision to hold up the funds. Trump noted the funds have since been released to Ukraine.

Trump’s remarks before the United Nations on Tuesday as well as his meetings with global leaders have been completely eclipsed by rising scrutiny of the conversation with Zelensky.

The president was asked about Ukraine as he arrived at the United Nations on Monday and Tuesday. The swelling scandal was also broached by reporters during his meetings with the leaders of Singapore, Poland and Great Britain.

During one particularly tense exchange, Trump told reporters as Polish President Andrzej Duda looked on that if a Republican had the same ties to Ukraine as Biden, “they’d be getting the electric chair by right now.”

Hunter Biden was on the board of a natural gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch while his father served as vice president. Joe Biden pushed in 2016 for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who had been accused of overlooking corruption in his own office, threatening to withhold money if the prosecutor was not fired.

There’s no indication Biden was acting with his son’s interests in mind, and he has denied doing so. But Trump and his allies, including his personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiFeehery: Weak mayors destroy America's great cities Coronavirus concerns emerge around debates Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group MORE, have pushed for an investigation into the Bidens in Ukraine and decried the former vice president as “corrupt.”

The controversy has put Zelensky in an uncomfortable position, but he will be unable to avoid the spotlight during Wednesday’s meeting. A former actor and production executive, Zelensky was elected in April after campaigning on a pledge to address corruption and other longstanding problems in Ukraine.

In an exclusive interview with Voice of America on Tuesday, Zelensky said he expected the meeting with Trump to be “very warm.”

“We just want the U.S. to always support Ukraine and Ukraine’s course in its fight against aggression and war,” he said via a translator. “It seems to me that it is so. And everything seems to lead to this. I think our meeting will be very warm.”