LONDON (AP) – Crying foul over timing, President Donald Trump on Monday accused Democrats of scheduling this weekâ€™s impeachment hearing to undercut him during his trip abroad for a NATO leadersâ€™ meeting playing out at a crucial moment for the 70-year-old military alliance.
Trump, who arrived in London late Monday for two days of meetings, called the trip â€œone of the most important journeys that we make as presidentâ€ before departing Washington and noted Democrats had long known about the meeting.
The president lashed out at Democrats again soon after arriving in the U.K. He said on Twitter that he had read the Republican report designed to counter Democratsâ€™ impeachment case on his flight. The report, which was obtained by The Associated Press, called Trumpâ€™s hesitation to provide military aid to Ukraine â€œentirely prudent.â€
â€œPrior to landing I read the Republicans Report on the Impeachment Hoax. Great job! Radical Left has NO CASE. Read the Transcripts,â€ Trump wrote on Twitter. â€œShouldnâ€™t even be allowed. Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?â€
It was not immediately clear under what legal grounds Trump was calling for the high courtâ€™s involvement.
Trumpâ€™s trip comes amid ongoing quarrels over defense spending by NATO allies and widespread anxiety over the presidentâ€™s commitment to the alliance.
The president said his trip would be focused on â€œfighting for the American people.â€ But in the more than two months that the impeachment inquiry has been underway, he has constantly drifted back to what he frames as the Democratsâ€™ unfair effort to overturn the results of his 2016 election.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on the constitutional grounds for impeachment before Trump wraps up at the NATO meeting.
Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway all complained about the timing, with Pompeo saying the hearings would â€œdistract America’s president from his important mission overseas.â€
Trump insists heâ€™s solely focused on scoring domestic and foreign policy wins, including revamping NATO so that allies spend more on defense. But heâ€™s often appeared consumed by the day-to-day battle against impeachment.
In recent days heâ€™s repeatedly lashed out about the â€œimpeachment hoaxâ€ and the â€œscamâ€ inquiry, even delving into impeachment at a ceremony to celebrate NCAA athletes and at last weekâ€™s annual Turkey pardon.
White House aides say the summit offers Trump an opportunity to counter the impeachment narrative in Washington and demonstrate to voters that heâ€™s keeping a business-as-usual approach while Democrats concentrate on the probe.
But soon after Air Force One departed, Trump took to Twitter to slam â€œDo Nothing Democratsâ€ for scheduling the hearing during the NATO meeting as â€œNot nice!â€â€
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in Madrid for a U.N. conference on climate change, declined to comment about the impeachment inquiry, saying, â€œWhen we travel abroad, we don’t talk about the president in a negative way. We save that for home.â€
Trump is only the fourth U.S. president in history to face an impeachment inquiry. The gravity of impeachment is likely to play into the calculus of how other global leaders engage the president going forward, in the view of some analysts.
â€œIn one sense impeachment is weakening his hand diplomatically,â€ said Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington. â€œFor a normal president, it would be seen as a substantial problem. For Donald Trump, heâ€™s going to try to blow right through it and act is if thatâ€™s not a relevant factor.â€
The NATO leaders meeting is a complicated backdrop for Trump to make his first extended overseas visit -he made a quick Thanksgiving visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan – since Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry.
Trump has repeatedly criticized fellow NATO members and complained that too few nations are on track to meet the alliance goal of spending at least 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. French President Emmanuel Macron recently lamented that a lack of U.S. leadership was causing the â€œbrain deathâ€ of the alliance.
Trumpâ€™s former national security adviser John Bolton has said the president could move to leave the alliance if he wins reelection.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has warned that a second Trump term could mean NATO’s effective dissolution, jokingly said Monday that he’d “say a prayer” as the president heads to London.
“There’s time for redemption,” Biden told reporters as he campaigned in Emmetsburg, Iowa. “But so far he’s treated NATO like it’s a protection racket.”
In the leadup to the summit, White House aides sought to soften Trumpâ€™s past criticism of member nations as deadbeats.
White House officials noted that before Trump took office only four NATO members had reached the 2% benchmark that was set in 2014. Now there are nine countries that have reached the threshold, according to the White House. Eighteen of the 29 members of the alliance are projected to meet the 2% threshold by 2024.
Trump isnâ€™t the first U.S. president to attend a NATO summit with impeachment looming.
In June 1974, Nixon faced criticism when he headed to Brussels as NATO commemorated its 25th anniversary. He met with fellow alliance leaders and tried to convey a message that he remained fully in power even as the Watergate investigation gained steam. By summerâ€™s end, Nixon resigned.
In contrast, Trump heads to NATO confident that there arenâ€™t the votes needed in the Republican-controlled Senate to convict him should the House vote to impeach him. Even so, he still might not be able to resist throwing attention back to the impeachment inquiry in Washington.
â€œWhile Nixon remained determined to rise above the swirl of impeachment and pretend he wasnâ€™t distracted, Trump canâ€™t help himself,â€ said Derek Chollet, executive vice president for security and defense policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. â€œMoreover, for Trump, being in charge hardly means projecting steady confidence â€“ it means proving that he can keep everyone off-balance and nervous about whatâ€™s coming next.â€
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in London; Kevin Freking and Darlene Superville in Washington; and Bill Barrow in Emmetsburg, Iowa, contributed to this report.
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