Trump cuts short infrastructure meeting, blasts Pelosi’s ‘cover-up’ accusation

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday abruptly cut off a meeting with U.S. congressional Democrats on infrastructure spending, then ripped into them over intensifying investigations by lawmakers and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accusation that he is engaged in a cover-up.

“I don’t do cover-ups,” an agitated Trump told reporters at a previously unscheduled White House appearance afterward, as he unleashed a litany of gripes about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and follow-up inquiries by congressional Democrats that the Republican president has sought to stonewall.

Trump, seeking re-election in 2020, said he would not work with Democrats on infrastructure, one of few issues that some had believed had the potential for bipartisan agreement, due to what he called their “phony” investigations.

Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat, did not back down afterward and pointedly mentioned the possibility of impeachment, the process set up by the U.S. Constitution for Congress to remove a president from office.

“The fact is, in plain sight in the public domain, this president is obstructing justice and he’s engaged in a cover-up – and that could be an impeachable offense,” Pelosi said in an event at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington policy advocacy group.

After the blow-up of the meeting and Trump’s Rose Garden diatribe, Democrats accused the president of setting them up and expressed concern about his conduct and the long-term outlook for policy-making in Washington.

“The president has made it clear he doesn’t want to consider any substantive issue as long as he’s under investigation,” Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told Reuters in the U.S. Capitol after the turbulent events at the White House.

“I’ve got news for the president: Every president is under investigation. That’s the nature of our Constitution,” he said.

POWER STRUGGLE

Trump and Democrats who control the House of Representatives are locked in a high-stakes power struggle over their ability to investigate him, with the president increasingly asserting that his advisers need not respond to lawmakers’ inquiries.

The president is stonewalling multiple congressional investigations by ignoring subpoenas, refusing to allow current and former advisers to testify and not handing over documents.

Early in the afternoon, with the White House drama behind him, Trump said on Twitter: “You can’t investigate and legislate simultaneously” and accused Democrats in Congress of “tearing the United States apart.”

Pelosi gave a different interpretation of Trump’s actions at the infrastructure meeting.

“For some reason, and maybe it was lack of confidence on his part that he really couldn’t match the greatness of the challenge that we have, he wasn’t really respectful of the Congress and the White House working together. He just took a pass. And it just makes me wonder why he did that,” Pelosi told reporters.

“In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America,” Pelosi added.

Amid growing talk by Democrats of impeaching Trump, Pelosi made her statement earlier on Wednesday, about an hour before the White House meeting, that Trump is engaged in a “cover-up.”

“No one is above the law, including the president of the United States,” Pelosi told reporters.

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday issued two more subpoenas to former White House staffers, including former communications director Hope Hicks, who was close to Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speak to the media along with other Democratic lawmakers including Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), who had traveled to the White House for a failed meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss infrastructure in Washington, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

After the less-then-five-minute White House meeting collapsed, Trump stood at a podium adorned with a professionally made sign that read, “No Collusion, No Obstruction” and that also listed the cost, length and other accusations about the Mueller probe.

Trump said he was upset that Democratic lawmakers were discussing the possibility of impeaching him.

He repeated his previous claims about Mueller’s probe of Russia’s interference in Trump’s favor in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “No collusion, no obstruction, no nothing,” Trump said. “This whole thing was a take-down attempt at the president of the United States.”

Trump said, “I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that – that’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”

‘JAW DROP’

Afterward, at a Capitol Hill press conference, Schumer said watching what happened at the meeting between the president and Democratic lawmakers “would make your jaw drop.” He said that when Trump was asked at the meeting how he would pay for an infrastructure plan, “he had to run away.”

The numerous congressional probes now underway range from whether Trump tried to obstruct Mueller’s inquiry to the president’s undisclosed tax returns, his handling of numerous policy issues and possible conflicts of interest involving the businesses he has not divested even while serving.

Asked if there is a complete breakdown now in the legislative process or any relationship with Trump, Durbin said: “What would you think if the president invited us back tomorrow? You think he’d be there or would not walk in and perform another piece of stagecraft? I just don’t know.”

As the confrontation between the White House and Congress has escalated, Pelosi and other senior House leaders have been trying to tamp down demands from more junior Democratic lawmakers to kick off impeachment proceedings, urging them to give court enforcement actions time to progress.

The Democratic House Intelligence Committee chairman has agreed to hold off enforcing a subpoena against Attorney General William Barr after the Justice Department said it would turn over materials relating to Mueller’s probe. The decision ended a standoff between the committee and the Justice Department for access to counterintelligence reports generated by Mueller.

Slideshow (16 Images)

Several House Democrats left Wednesday morning’s meeting telling reporters that Schiff’s deal might cool some of the passion for immediately moving toward impeachment

But impeachment demands have mounted since former White House Counsel Don McGahn ignored a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to appear before it and testify.

Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly told reporters that Pelosi was working to balance the demands of Democrats in the House. But he added, “I am increasingly concerned that this president has committed impeachable offenses.”

Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan, Mohammed Zargham and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham

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