Trump walks out of meeting with top Dems
US President storms out of infrastructure meeting over cover-up remarks
WASHINGTON President Donald Trump on Wednesday abruptly cut short a White House meeting with Democratic lawmakers on infrastructure, then ripped into them over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's accusation that he is engaged in a cover-up and asserted that he could not work with them unless they dropped multiple investigations.
"I don't do cover-ups," the Republican President, clearly agitated, told reporters at a previously unscheduled Rose Garden appearance after his brief meeting with Democratic congressional leaders that Mrs Pelosi described as "very, very, very strange".
Unleashing a familiar litany of gripes about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and the follow-up congressional inquiries that he has been stonewalling, Mr Trump also complained that Democrats had met to discuss whether to impeach him - or, as he called it, "the I-word".
The rupture bodes ill for any possible cooperation between the President and the Democrats who control the House of Representatives on legislation on infrastructure or other matters as Mr Trump seeks re-election in 2020, signalling deepening political gridlock in Washington.
Mrs Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat, did not back down and pointedly mentioned the possibility of impeachment, the US Constitution's process for the House and Senate to remove a president from office.
"The fact is, in plain sight in the public domain, this President is obstructing justice and he is engaged in a cover-up - and that could be an impeachable offence," Mrs Pelosi said at an event.
The President is stonewalling congressional investigations by ignoring subpoenas, refusing to let current and former advisers testify and not handing over documents in the aftermath of the April release of Mr Mueller's report that detailed Russian interference in the 2016 election to boost Mr Trump's candidacy.
After the blow-up of the meeting and Mr Trump's diatribe, Democrats accused him of setting them up and expressed concern about his conduct and the long-term outlook.
"The President has made it clear he doesn't want to consider any substantive issue as long as he is under investigation," Mr Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told Reuters.
"I've got news for the President: Every president is under investigation. That is the nature of our Constitution," he said.
In the run-up to the infrastructure meeting, Mr Trump was stewing over Mrs Pelosi's cover-up remarks, according to a White House official.
Mrs Pelosi, amid growing talk about impeachment, had told reporters an hour before the scheduled meeting that Mr Trump is engaged in a cover-up.
As the meeting neared, Mr Trump told aides he wanted to hold an event in the Rose Garden to make a statement.
JUST FIVE MINUTES
When Mrs Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer arrived in the Cabinet Room, Mr Trump walked in, stood at the head of a long boardroom table and told them he had asked them over to talk about infrastructure, but that the Speaker had just accused him of a cover-up.
The meeting lasted only three to five minutes, the official said.
Once Mr Trump exited, Mrs Pelosi told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others in the room that prior presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt had brought people together on infrastructure but Mr Trump had walked out, two sources familiar with the meeting said.
Mr Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway asked Mrs Pelosi: "Do you have a response to what the President actually said?"
Mrs Pelosi fired back: "I'm going to engage directly with the President, not the staff."
"That's very pro-woman of you," Mrs Conway fired back.
Afterwards, Mr Trump strode to a podium adorned with a sign that read, "No Collusion, No Obstruction", and that also listed the cost and length of the Mueller probe.
Mr Trump said: "I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I'd be really good at that - that is what I do.
"But you know what? You can't do it under these circumstances. So get these phoney investigations over with."
A source close to Mr Trump said he has been troubled in recent days to see former aide Hope Hicks and other people close to him subpoenaed in the House probe.
Congressional probes now underway range from whether Mr Trump tried to obstruct Mr Mueller's inquiry into the President's undisclosed tax returns, his handling of numerous policy issues and possible conflicts of interest involving the businesses he has not divested even while serving.- REUTERS
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