As he prepared to board Air Force One for the NATO summit in London, President Trump on Monday praised two Republican lawmakers for defending him and belittled the ongoing impeachment investigation, accusing Democrats of timing their hearing this week to occur when he would be out of the country.
Trump praised Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., of coming to his defense in appearances on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Fox’s “America’s Newsroom,” respectively. He also said he was not going to send any representatives to this week’s planned hearing because the impeachment investigation is a “hoax.”
The outbursts came as the House Intelligence Committee prepared its report on Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and whether he used U.S. military aid to pressure Kyiv to investigate his political rivals and a debunked conspiracy theory on Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said he never discussed a “quid pro quo” with Trump at the same time criticizing the holdup in military aid in an interview published by Time Monday.
“I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
“I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand: We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.”
Trump mischaracterized the remarks as an exoneration.
U.S. intelligence agencies and the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller firmly pinned the hacking of Democrats’ servers during the 2016 election on Russia, but on Sunday, Kennedy said he thinks both Russia and Ukraine were involved.
“You should read the articles … because they are well-documented. And I believe that a Ukrainian district court in December 2018 slapped down several Ukrainian officials for meddling in our elections as a violation of the Ukrainian law,” Kennedy said Sunday on “Meet the Press,” adding the “facts” were reported by “reputable journalists.” He then denied he was just repeating Russian disinformation.
In her testimony last month, former national Security Council official Fiona Hill called stories about Ukrainian involvement a “fictional narrative” promoted by Moscow. Kennedy discounted her assessment, saying she’s “entitled to her opinion.”
On Monday, Cline likened House Democrats to the empire in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
“Well, you know with the Mueller report, look at it this way, we had ‘Star Wars,’ the empire got destroyed, just like the Mueller report got destroyed,” Cline said when asked what he expects to see later this week.
“The sequel is here, it’s ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ or as we like to say, the Intelligence Committee strikes back. [Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam Schiff [D-Calif.] strikes back. But we all know how this story ends. The rebels win. Ultimately, the president will be exonerated and we don’t anticipate there being any reason to go forward with these hearings.”
Trump called the lawmakers’ remarks “great.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on a trip to Spain for a climate summit, declined to discuss impeachment at a Madrid news conference, saying she never criticizes presidents on overseas trips.
The House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing Thursday on the historical roots of impeachment as it opens its considerations on whether to issue articles of impeachment against Trump. White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., declining to dispatch a representative to take part in the hearing. He left the door open to participating in future hearings.