WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump grew increasingly exasperated on Thursday as he sat in his cabin aboard Air Force One and watched television coverage of Democrats on a congressional committee accuse him of criminal behaviour.
Moments after landing in Washington, the Republican Trump fired back at Democrats for launching an impeachment inquiry for having pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a leading Democratic rival in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The inquiry is casting a new pall over his presidency just months after he emerged from the dark cloud cast by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether he colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.
Instead of walking from the plane to his Marine One helicopter Trump approached reporters at Joint Base Andrews near Washington to say he had been watching news coverage of the whistleblower scandal on the flight back from New York.
“It’s a disgrace to our country,” Trump said. “It’s another witch hunt. Here we go again.”
It is just sinking in what Trump and his White House face in the weeks and months ahead of the November 2020 election: Hearings in Congress overshadowing the president’s limited legislative agenda and a further polarizing of the country.
Some of Trump’s outside advisers are pressuring the White House to develop a more organised response along the lines of the well-disciplined “war room” effort that President Bill Clinton put together when House Republicans sought to impeach the Democrat in 1998.
So far, there has been no decision to set up such a team, one source familiar with discussions said.
The source, who is close to Trump, raised significant concerns about the readiness of his team to prepare for what that person called “the biggest fight of his life.”
“I’m gravely concerned there’s no media operation up and running right now to be pushing back on all this. There’s no plan,” the source said.
A businessman and former reality TV star, Trump has taken the lead for decades in shaping his media image.
His reaction so far has been to flail at Democrats, the media and the whistleblower who raised the Ukrainian issue. He punched out a series of tweets and retweets denouncing them, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, whom he branded “liddle Adam Schiff.”
In the span of several hours, Trump fired off about 45 blasts via Twitter, a Reuters count showed, an unusually high number even for him.
Ending a trip to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump was in a stormy mood as he addressed diplomats of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations at a New York hotel. Whoever gave the information about the Ukraine call could be a spy, he suggested.
“You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now,” Trump said, according to a recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
White House officials did not dispute the recording.
At the White House, officials are privately doubtful that much work will get done legislatively with Congress in an impeachment uproar.
At stake is gun reform and legislation on lowering drug prices, as well as Trump’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.
“I don’t know what happens to all that now,” one official said.
Trump’s decision to release the transcript of his July 25 phone conversation with Ukraine President Voldymyr Zelenskiy is also the subject of some second-guessing inside and outside the White House.
In the call, Trump talked about how much assistance the United States provides to Ukraine and then asked Zelenskiy to look into Biden’s son Hunter Biden over his ties to Ukraine’s energy industry as well as Biden himself.
During a New York news conference on Wednesday, Trump appeared unusually subdued when asked whether he was prepared for a long impeachment saga.
Trump harked back to the Russia probe that Mueller concluded in April.
“I thought we won. I thought it was dead. It was dead. The Mueller report. No obstruction. No collusion,” he said.
Reporting By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; additional reporting by Susan Heavey, editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller