DAVOS – President Donald Trump held court in the snow-capped Alps for two days, showcasing the American economy to world leaders and global elites. But he kept one eye firmly fixed on the impeachment drama back home.
As he hobnobbed with the bold-faced names at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump interrupted his economic cheerleading to unleash scathing attacks on the process unfolding half a world away in Washington. He denounced the U.S. Senate trial, mocked his Democratic rivals and entertained legal strategies that ran contrary to White House plans.
West Wing aides had hoped to keep the president centered on the economy at the forum in this resort town that has become synonymous with a brand of globalism that Trump rejects. For the first day, Trump largely complied, spending most of Tuesday talking up a solid economy that advisers believe is the president’s best argument for reelection in November.
But on Wednesday, just before he was scheduled to head for home, Trump called for an impromptu news conference. At first, he stayed on message and on the economy. Then, less so.
He turned his anger on two major players in the impeachment trial. He called U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., a "sleazebag” and asserted that U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was a “con job” and a “corrupt politician.”
The news conference soon morphed to an in-person version of the president’s Twitter feed, which features regular broadsides against the process that led to Trump's impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress as it investigated Trump’s push for Ukraine to probe one of his political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
As many of his top economic advisers silently stood by, Trump declared that he would love to attend his own trial by the Senate to “sit right in the front row and stare into their corrupt faces.” But he acknowledged that his lawyers would almost certainly counsel against it.
He also offered mixed messages about the potential for witnesses to be called before the Senate.
Trump has previously expressed an interest in having witnesses, including Biden’s son Hunter and the whistleblower who first brought attention to Trump’s July call with his Ukrainian counterpart. He's expressed interest in a showy trial that would lead to public exoneration. But Trump’s allies in the Republican-controlled Senate have counseled that witnesses be skipped and that the president should not try to prolong a trial that seems to have a foregone conclusion in his acquittal.
Trump on Wednesday claimed he would be content with testimony from administration officials, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. The White House blocked all of them from appearing before the U.S. House last year.
Even as Trump raised the idea of witness testimony, he seemed to knock it down, saying that allowing the officials to testify would create “a national security problem.” In particular, he was skeptical of an appearance by Bolton, who was ousted in September. "You don’t like people testifying when they didn’t leave on good terms,” the president said.
As is his custom, Trump mixed in charm with his bluster.
Moments before declaring that the “corrupt” press was one of America's most pressing problems, he congratulated an NBC correspondent on her new show. He effusively praised some of the nation’s CEOs and foreign rivals, including President Xi Jinping of China, with whom Trump just reached phase one of a trade deal. And while he had once used Davos chic as shorthand for a style of globalism that hurt America’s independence, Trump made a point of noting in his news conference that “Davos has treated us beautifully.”
Soon thereafter he was gone, returning to a capital city consumed with the third impeachment trial in U.S. history, and one that could affect both the president’s legacy and his reelection chances.
But heavy fog scuttled Trump’s planned helicopter departure above the picturesque mountains. Instead, he was forced to take a winding two-hour motorcade ride back to Air Force One. His return to Washington was delayed, his uncertain political future waiting.
Lemire reported from New York.
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