WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday exhorted fellow Republicans to get tougher and fight for him, saying the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives wants to impeach him “as quick as possible” over his request that Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.
Trump made his comments during a White House Cabinet meeting as Democrats sought to build public support for their fast-moving impeachment inquiry and the administration pressed its efforts to stonewall a probe that threatens his presidency.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a video and “fact sheet” that may give hints about articles of impeachment – formal charges – Democrats may pursue against Republican Trump, accusing him of abuse of power, a “shakedown” involving Ukraine and a cover-up.
Few Republican lawmakers have shown an inclination to remove Trump from office even as Democrats focus on his pushing a vulnerable foreign ally to interfere to his benefit in the 2020 U.S. election by providing political dirt on Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Trump in the November 2020 election.
But Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, has come under sharp criticism from Republican Senator Mitt Romney.
And other Republicans have expressed misgivings about Trump policies, including criticism by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham of his withdrawal of U.S. troops here in northeastern Syria, exposing U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters to a Turkish cross-border offensive.
Approval of articles of impeachment in the House would prompt a trial in the Republican-led Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.
“The Republicans have to get tougher and fight. We have some that are great fighters, but they have to get tougher and fight, because the Democrats are trying to hurt the Republican Party before the election,” Trump said.
Trump said the Democrats are “vicious and they stick together.”
“They don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst. They don’t have people like that. They stick together,” Trump added.
In an interview aired with “Axios on HBO,” Romney denounced Trump’s requests to Ukraine and China to investigate Biden, questioned Trump’s character, criticized his decision to “abandon” Kurdish allies in the Syria war and deplored his hush money payment to an adult film star. Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Trump also labeled as “phony” an anti-corruption clause in the U.S. Constitution that Democrats have accused him of violating through the operation of his businesses including a hotel in downtown Washington. The so-called emoluments clause bars a president from receiving any gifts, payment or other things of value from a foreign country.
An accusation of violating the emoluments clause could figure into the articles of impeachment against Trump.
Democrats mocked Trump. “It is literally in the Constitution,” Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell said on Twitter.
Asked if it is a foregone conclusion that House Democrats will vote to impeach him, Trump said that “they’re not going to beat me in the election, so of course they want to impeach.”
“They want to impeach. And they want to do it as quick as possible,” Trump added.
Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, also said serving as president has personally cost him $2 billion to $5 billion dollars. Trump also expressed annoyance at having to reverse his decision to stage the Group of Seven summit in June at his Trump National Doral golf resort in the Miami area.
His plan to host the international gathering at a business he owns was criticized by Democrats and Republicans who said it gave the impression he was profiting from being president.
“I would’ve made a fortune if I just ran my business. I was doing it really well. I have a great business. I have the best properties,” Trump told reporters.
At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had been a director of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Another round of crucial testimony in the inquiry is set for this week, including by Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, on Tuesday.
Acting White House budget director Russell Vought said both he and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, would not provide depositions to the committees leading the inquiry.
Duffey had been scheduled to testify behind closed doors on Wednesday as Democrats scrutinize Trump’s decision to withhold $391 million in security aid to Ukraine before he asked its president to investigate Biden.
A planned deposition on Wednesday by Philip Reeker, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs who oversaw U.S. policy toward Ukraine, has been postponed at the request of the lawmakers carrying out the inquiry and no new date has been set, a source familiar with the matter said.
(Graphic: The impeachment inquiry, here)
Reporting by Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Doina Chiacu, Arshad Mohammed, Lisa Lambert, Matt Spetalnick and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Grant McCool