President Trump on Wednesday raged over House Democrats’ accelerating impeachment inquiry, leveling several false claims, ducking questions and publicly venting an anger that’s been percolating for a week behind closed West Wing doors.
Trump’s outburst came amid an intensifying showdown with Capitol Hill as House Democrats said they would issue a subpoena to the White House on Friday if the Trump administration did not voluntarily turn over records related to a July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president.
Later during public appearances at the White House, Trump repeated his claim that the whistleblower is “a spy” and vowed to “find out who that person was.”
Asked whether the whistleblower’s anonymity should be protected, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, “I don’t care.”
Earlier, Trump assailed Democrats in a tweet for “wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLSHIT,” responding in real time to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s televised morning news conference.
Trump continued his attempt to portray the whistleblower as fake during a news conference in the White House East Room alongside the president of Finland. “I have a lot of respect for whistleblowers, but only when they’re real,” he said.
Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, and Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, have both said the whistleblower has followed the law and filed a legitimate complaint.
The bulk of the whistleblower’s complaint has been corroborated by Trump himself. He has acknowledged asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s possible opponents in the 2020 presidential race.
Trump has also confirmed that at the time of the call, he had put a hold on nearly $400 million in critical aid to that country. A White House account of the July 25 call quoted Zelensky as expressing interest in more U.S. military aid and Trump responding by asking the Ukrainian leader for a “favor.”
Trump has insisted that the two actions were unrelated. He continued to defend the conversation as “perfect” and pointed to Zelensky’s public statement that he didn’t feel pressured.
But when a reporter asked him what he had wanted from Ukraine in terms of investigating Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a natural gas company there for five years, Trump refused to answer, turning hostile when the question was repeated and telling the reporter, Jeff Mason of Reuters, to “not be rude.”
Trump also seized on the revelation, first reported in the New York Times, that the whistleblower initially sought guidance from the House Intelligence Committee about how to proceed with a complaint, giving Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), the committee chair, advance notice that a complaint might be coming.
Schiff’s office said the person was advised to hire an attorney and file a formal whistleblower’s complaint — standard practice in such circumstances.
“It shows that Schiff is a fraud,” said Trump, who waved a copy of the New York Times article during his news conference and called it evidence that the scandal has been a conspiracy against him. Trump also said he suspected that Schiff helped write the complaint.
Schiff’s office said he didn’t see the complaint ahead of time and had nothing to do with writing it.
Other Republicans joined in attacking Schiff, calling it a “deep state” plot that raised questions about the legitimacy of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Asked at his news conference whether he would cooperate with potential subpoenas, Trump was brusque. “I always cooperate,” he said. “This is a hoax.”
Among the documents being sought are any communications between administration officials involving Trump’s phone conversation with Zelensky.
Separately Wednesday, the State Department inspector general, Steve Linick, briefed legislative staff behind closed doors on what had been described as an “urgent” matter.
Afterward, lawmakers said Linick turned over a packet of what Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, called “propaganda,” papers outlining what he described as several conspiracy theories about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election that had apparently been sent to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.
Democrats had previously expressed concerns that Pompeo has been pressuring State Department officials not to cooperate with congressional investigations.
Pompeo rejected that criticism during a news conference in Italy, one of his stops on a four-nation tour of Europe this week. He accused congressional staff leading the impeachment inquiry of mistreating State Department workers.
“We won’t tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying, intimidating State Department employees,” he said. “That’s unacceptable and it’s not something that I’m going to permit to happen.”
At the same news conference, Pompeo acknowledged that he was listening in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. It’s common practice for diplomats and intelligence officials to take part in phone calls between heads of state, but Pompeo had previously suggested he didn’t know details of the conversation.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Pompeo should recuse himself from Ukraine-related issues because of his involvement. He also said Pompeo “must refrain from any direct or indirect participation in or influence over the State Department response to the Ukraine scandal, including congressional requests for documents or to interview State Department personnel.”
Schiff said any refusal to hand over documents to Congress would create the “adverse inference that those [underlying] allegations are in fact correct.” Democrats have warned that any attempts by the administration to block the impeachment inquiry could themselves be impeachable offenses.
“We’re not fooling around here, though. We don’t want this to drag on months and months and months,” Schiff said.
Schiff also sharply criticized Trump’s attacks on the unidentified whistleblower, including the president’s allusion during private remarks last week to how American spies were once executed.
“This is a blatant effort to intimidate witnesses,” Schiff said. “It’s an incitement of violence.”
Schiff has been a frequent target of Trump’s anger, and the president twice told reporters that he should resign and be investigated for treason. When asked at the news conference about his increased use of the word “treason,” Trump said he thinks it’s warranted when someone lies about the president.
Pelosi (D-San Francisco) sought to send the message that Democrats were not spending all their time on impeachment and instead were working on lowering prescription drug prices and advancing Trump’s proposed revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Progress is being made on a revised NAFTA despite the lack of public comments about it, she said.
“The quiet you hear is progress,” said Pelosi.
Trump had threatened that nothing would get done in Congress as Democrats pursued their impeachment inquiry.
“If the president is saying, ‘If you question my actions, you can’t agree on any subject,’ the ball is in his court on that,” Pelosi said.
Trump rejected Pelosi’s comments on Twitter. “It is just camouflage for trying to win an election through impeachment,” he tweeted. “The Do Nothing Democrats are stuck in mud!”
Times staff writers Molly O’Toole in Washington and Tracy Wilkinson in Kyiv , Ukraine, contributed to this report.