President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s investigation.
In the immediate aftermath of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNorth Dakota Republican latest House breakthrough COVID-19 case Pelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump 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 BidenPelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Pressure grows to cut diplomatic red tape for Afghans left behind President Biden is making the world a more dangerous place 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 GiulianiThree Democrats call for investigation into Sidney Powell to move 'swiftly' Fox News bans Rudy Giuliani from appearing: report Alabama official dismisses Lindell claim that 100K votes were flipped from Trump to Biden: 'It's not possible' 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.”