Trump seeks to shift questions from impeachment at UN

Trump seeks to shift questions from impeachment at UN
© Getty Images

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE on Wednesday capped a chaotic three days at the United Nations with a subdued 40-minute press conference in which he sought to defend himself against allegations of improper interactions with the leader of Ukraine.

Trump alternated between lashing out at Democrats and the media over the controversy surrounding his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and appearing drained in the face of a mounting threat of impeachment.


“Well I thought we won. I thought it was dead,” Trump said when asked if he was prepared for a long impeachment fight.

He took questions from just four different reporters, a far cry from his marathon 90-minute presser that closed out last year’s U.N. summit.

The president rambled at times, sounded downtrodden at points of the presser and lacked the combativeness that has been a signature of many of his exchanges with the press. On several occasions, he actively sought to steer the conversation away from the House impeachment inquiry.

“I’d love some questions on some of the things that we accomplished at UNGA instead of the phony witch hunt questions,” Trump told reporters after declaring the gathering of world leaders had been “very fruitful.”

“How about one more question. Question on the economy,” he said near the end of the press conference, patting the side of the podium with one hand and scanning the crowd before calling on a Venezuelan reporter.

The bulk of the event was consumed by a rambling 20-minute opening statement in which Trump spring-boarded from topic to topic. He also invited Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map Huawei endangers Western values The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCommerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Mnuchin says officials working on new tax cuts | Watchdog charges former execs over Wells Fargo accounts scandal | Study questions Biden, Sanders tax plan claims MORE to give brief remarks.

The president touted progress on his long-promised border wall at the southern border, highlighted new agreements with Central American countries to have them take in more asylum-seekers and cited a narrow trade agreement with Japan as noteworthy takeaways from the trip.

Trump did lash out at his critics about impeachment and the Ukraine controversy.

“Much of the press is not only fake, it’s corrupt. These stories they write are corrupt, they’re so wrong,” he said. “It used to be, I used to get great press until I ran for politics. I mean, I used to be the king of getting good press.”

The White House on Wednesday morning released a rough transcript of Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky, which revealed that Trump had urged the Ukrainian leader to look into Democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE.

Democratic committee leaders called the document “damning,” while Trump insisted there was “no pressure” put on Zelensky.

The president opened his press conference by saying he would support transparency for a whistleblower complaint that deals with his July call with Zelensky. 

He went on to claim that Democrats who traveled to Ukraine were also guilty of interceding in a foreign government's dealings.

The president had sought to diffuse the Ukraine controversy by authorizing the release of the transcript, but it in some ways made matters worse as Democrats seized on an exchange in which Trump pushed Zelensky to “look into” Biden and work with Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiParnas says he has turned over tape of Trump calling for diplomat's firing Pompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map ABC: Recording apparently captures Trump discussing Yovanovitch ouster with Parnas, Fruman MORE and Attorney General Bill Barr.

“I was getting such fake news and I just thought it would be better,” Trump said when asked why he opted to release the conversation.

The president, perhaps sensing that revealing more information would help his cause, told reporters at the news conference that maybe Congress would want to review his April conversation with Zelensky or two discussions between the Ukrainian president and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican Schumer urges declassification of letter from Pence aide Majority of voters don't believe new info will be revealed in Senate trial MORE.

“I think you should ask for [Vice President] Pence’s conversation because he had a couple of conversations also,” Trump said. “I could save you a lot of time. They’re all perfect.”

He went on to rail against top-ranking Democratic officials who have led the push for additional information on his dealings with Ukraine, 

He accused Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) of caving to the “radical left,” and suggested House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Schiff says Justice Roberts should rule on witnesses Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line MORE (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler calls Trump a 'dictator' on Senate floor Poll: Majority think Senate should call witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Susan Collins asked Justice Roberts to intervene after Nadler late-night 'cover-up' accusation MORE (D-N.Y.) were playing some kind of con.

“When you see little Adam Schiff go out and lie and lie and stand at the mic – smart guy, by the way... And then he goes into a room with Nadler and they must laugh their asses off,” Trump said. “They must laugh their asses off.”

Trump had in recent days acknowledged that he raised Biden and corruption on a call with Zelensky and admitted that he withheld aid to Ukraine just days before the call. But he insisted there was nothing improper about his behavior, and that the call transcript would prove it.

Instead, the document provided Democrats with additional fuel for their impeachment inquiry as lawmakers seized on Trump pushing a foreign leader to look into one of his most formidable domestic political rivals.

Trump was asked about the document at multiple meetings with world leaders on Wednesday, including one closely watched sit-down with Zelensky where the Ukrainian president said he did not feel pressure from Trump on the call.