NEW YORK — President Donald Trump strode into his news conference on Wednesday ready to outline his defense against the House’s newly launched impeachment inquiry: blame the media for false reporting and accuse the Democrats of being hypocrites.
But it wasn’t the typical Trump who showed up. Instead of the loud, defiant force that America has come to know at his impromptu news conferences and free-wheeling campaign rallies, the president was subdued and self-absorbed as he read from his notes.
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“The witch hunt continues,” Trump told hundreds gathered at a Manhattan hotel. “But they’re getting hit hard on this witch hunt. Because when they look at the information, it’s a joke. Impeachment for that?”
After wrapping up his hectic annual visit to the United Nations, Trump, clad in his trademark dark suit and red tie, appeared resigned to return to the nation’s capital Thursday and enter a new — and decidedly unwelcome — phase of his presidency.
“It is very sad what the Democrats are doing to this country,” he said slowly. “They’re dividing.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday that the House was formally opening an impeachment inquiry into Trump, and by Wednesday a majority of lawmakers in the chamber had backed the proceedings after news that he had asked the Ukrainian president to hurt a political rival.
Trump’s 42-minute, disjointed news conference came after he had spent four days on the road — flying to Texas and Ohio to meet with two foreign leaders on Sunday, and then three days of nonstop meetings at the UN, where he delivered two speeches.
Instead of spending an hour or two calling on so many reporters that even the journalists grew tired — as he has done numerous times before — the president called on just four people, two who work for outlets that focus on the economy, one of his favorite topics. He looked around the hotel conference room looking for another.
“Question on the economy,” he called out. “A question on the economy.”
Trump spoke for 25 minutes before he even started answering questions, and while he touched on familiar topics, from his Electoral College win in 2016 to rebuilding the U.S. military, the subject often returned to impeachment.
After answering the first question — why it is appropriate for him to ask a foreign leader for information about a political rival — he appeared to tire of the topic. He took a break from the questions and asked two of his most loyal aides, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who were standing next to him, to say a few words about their work at the UN.
Trump admitted that he had asked the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to work with Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to look into whether former Vice President Joe Biden pressured Ukrainian officials to fire a prosecutor investigating his son’s gas company, but he insisted there was nothing wrong with what he did. “He wasn’t pressured at all,” he said.
After months of stonewalling Congress on a variety of investigations — from the Russia investigation to whether he is using the presidency to enrich himself — Trump hinted that he would release a transcript of another call with Zelensky and that Vice President Mike Pence, who was not present, might do the same. He said he had told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy he wanted to be transparent as the investigation moved forward.
Just hours earlier, he had ordered the release of a five-page document detailing one of his calls with Zelensky.
Still, while Trump’s demeanor was changed, his defense was familiar. He used the same words to describe the two-year investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into whether he and his aides colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
He accused Biden of threatening Ukrainian officials and claimed that Democrats traveled to Ukraine to force Zelensky “to do things that they wanted under the form of political threat.” He offered no details or evidence.
This time, though, he portrayed himself more of a victim than he has in the past, saying he had put in so much effort the last few days, only to have the media not report on it.
“The sad thing about this hoax is that we work so hard with all of these countries — and I mean really hard,” he said of the UN trip. “I’ve been up from early in the morning to late in the evening, and meeting with different countries all for the good of our country, and the press doesn’t even cover all of this. … It’s really disappointing also to those countries that are with us and spend so much time with us.”
When was asked whether he was ready for the long impeachment road ahead, Trump expressed surprise at where he found himself — the subject of an impeachment inquiry, finally, after Democrats had talked about it long before he was sworn in to office.
“Well, I thought we won,” he said. “I thought it was dead. It was dead.”