Trump: Republicans must 'get tougher' against impeachment inquiry

Trump's comments come as he faces criticism from some Republicans over other issues, including his policy towards Syria.

    Trump sits at the White House in Washington, DC [Leah Millis/Reuters]
    Trump sits at the White House in Washington, DC [Leah Millis/Reuters]

    US President Donald Trump on Monday exhorted fellow Republicans to get tougher and fight for him, saying the Democratic-led US House of Representatives wants to impeach him "as quick as possible" over his request that Ukraine investigate a political rival.

    Trump made his comments during a White House Cabinet meeting as Democrats sought to build public support for their fast-moving impeachment inquiry and the administration pressed its efforts to stonewall a probe that threatens his presidency.

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    Few Republican politicians have shown an inclination to remove Trump from office. But Trump has come under sharp criticism from Republican Senator Mitt Romney. And other Republicans have expressed misgivings about Trump policies, including criticism by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham of his withdrawal of United States troops in northeastern Syria, exposing US-allied Kurdish fighters to a Turkish cross-border offensive.

    Approval of articles of impeachment in the House would prompt a trial in the Republican-led Senate on whether to remove Trump from office. Trump is seeking re-election next year.

    Asked if it is a foregone conclusion that House Democrats will vote to impeach him, Trump said that "they're not going to beat me in the election, so, of course, they want to impeach".

    "They want to impeach. And they want to do it as quick as possible. And that's pretty much the story," Trump added. 

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    "The Republicans have to get tougher and fight. We have some that are great fighters, but they have to get tougher and fight, because the Democrats are trying to hurt the Republican Party before the election," Trump said.

    Trump said the Democrats are "vicious and they stick together".

    "They don't have Mitt Romney in their midst. They don't have people like that. They stick together," Trump added.

    In an interview aired with "Axios on HBO", Romney denounced Trump's requests to Ukraine and China to investigate Biden, questioned Trump's character, criticised his decision to "abandon" Kurdish allies in the Syria war and deplored his hush-money payment to an adult film star. Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.

    Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, also said serving as president has personally cost him two to five billion dollars. He has not provided any evidence. Trump also expressed annoyance at having to reverse his decision to stage the G7 summit in June at his Trump National Doral golf resort in the Miami area. His plan to host the international gathering at a business he owns was criticised by Democrats and Republicans who said it gave the impression he was profiting from being president.

    House testimony looms

    Acting White House Budget Director Russell Vought said both he and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security programmes at the Office of Management and Budget, would not provide depositions to the committees leading the impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led House. 

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    Duffey had been scheduled to testify behind closed doors on Wednesday as Democrats scrutinise Trump's decision to withhold $391m in security aid to Ukraine before he asked its president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic frontrunner, and his son, Hunter. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. 

    Other current and former administration officials have defied White House demands that they not cooperate with the inquiry, which threatens Republican Trump's presidency. Another round of crucial testimony is set for this week, including by Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, on Tuesday.

    House Democrats released a fact sheet and video to try to make their case for impeachment, drawing on information already made public about the Ukraine scandal. The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump pressuring a vulnerable foreign ally to interfere to his benefit in the 2020 US presidential election by providing political dirt on Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump.

    At issue is a June phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had been a director of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election. US intelligence agencies and a special counsel have concluded that Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to boost Trump's candidacy. 

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    Trump has said he did nothing wrong and that the Zelensky call was "perfect".

    Diplomat Taylor could be one of the most important witnesses yet. Taylor's text messages with US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland have surfaced as a central thread in the probe.

    The congressionally approved US security aid that Trump had withheld was intended to help Ukraine deal with Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. Zelensky agreed to Trump's requests. Trump later provided the aid.

    "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Taylor, the US charge d'affaires in Ukraine, said in a text to Sondland.

    A planned deposition on Wednesday by Philip Reeker, the acting US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs who oversaw US policy towards Ukraine, has been postponed at the request of the politicians carrying out the impeachment inquiry and no new date has been fixed, a source familiar with the matter said.

    The source said the postponement had to do both with memorial and funeral arrangements for Representative Elijah Cummings, who was chairman of one of the three committees leading the inquiry, as well as with a failure to provide sufficient notice of the planned deposition under congressional rules.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency