JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN
WASHINGTON (AP) — What hearings? What phone call?
Professing disinterest and disdain, President Donald Trump said he was “too busy” doing the people’s business Wednesday to watch the impeachment hearings that imperil his presidency. But even as Trump tried to suggest that he was above the fray, the president repeatedly laid out his many grievances against the process playing out on the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I hear it’s a joke. I haven’t watched for one minute,” Trump said during a White House news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the day’s testimony had ended. “This is a sham, and it shouldn’t be allowed.”
The first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry opened with two career public servants raising their hands and swearing an oath to tell the truth. Trump pushed back vigorously, insisting that the impeachment process is illegitimate and that he did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine.
Although claiming not to watch, Trump had tweeted and retweeted complaints about the inquiry more than 30 times by late afternoon and couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, a principal political foe on Capitol Hill.
“It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax, I’m too busy to watch it,” Trump told reporters. “There’s nothing there. I see they’re using lawyers that are television lawyers. They took some guys off television. You know, I’m not surprised to see it because Schiff can’t do his own questions.”
Schiff is overseeing the impeachment hearings as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
“New hoax. Same swamp,” read one tweet from the White House that Trump retweeted. He quoted his defenders and lashed out at the first witnesses to testify publicly, labeling William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, a career diplomat, as “NEVER TRUMPERS!”
Taylor and Kent worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is no evidence that either engaged in partisan activity opposing Trump, and both denied being “Never Trumpers” when asked during the hearing.
In one new development, Taylor said a member of his staff overheard Trump, during a July phone call with another diplomat, asking about “the investigations.” The Democrats have been trying to make the case that the president tried to extort Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and held up U.S. military aid as leverage.
Trump was asked about the phone call during a news conference with Erdogan. “I know nothing about that,” he said, adding that he “did not recall” the conversation.
Among Trump’s tweets, the president circulated a video in which he deemed the impeachment proceedings “the single greatest scam in the history of American politics.”
“Our country is at stake like never before,” he said in the video. “They’re trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you. And I’ll never let that happen.”
The hearing, the first on television for the nation to see, provided hours of partisan back-and-forth but no singular moment to be etched in the public consciousness as grounds for removing the 45th president from office.
Even if the Democratic-controlled House ultimately votes to make Trump only the third American president to be impeached, few expect the Republican-controlled Senate to remove Trump from office. And although a number of the president’s advisers believe that impeachment could be a political winner for Trump on the campaign trail next year, the president has reacted angrily to the probe. He defends his phone call with Ukraine’s leader, which is at the heart of the inquiry, as “perfect” while deriding the impeachment effort as a conspiracy among Democrats and the “deep state.”
Trump has long been frustrated by the inability of his own White House staff and his Republican cohorts on Capitol Hill to change the narrative of the impeachment inquiry and has urged them to mount a more robust defense.
Trump allies seemed to settle on two talking points Wednesday: that the hearings were “boring” and that the Ukraine matter was not an impeachable offense but a foreign policy disagreement. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham hit on both, tweeting “This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money. Congress should be working on passing USMCA, funding our govt & military, working on reduced drug pricing & so much more.”
And Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, took to Twitter to write, “We hate to break it to these unelected, career government bureaucrats who think they know best: the President of the United States sets foreign policy, not them. And disagreement on policy is not an impeachable offense.”
The Trump campaign also began blasting out rapid response rebuttals, one claiming that “the Democrats lie and slander President Trump,” and made a fundraising appeal.
JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN