Inside week of Trump’s expected impeachment
On the day of his expected impeachment, President Donald Trump awoke before dawn, flicked on the television and began tweeting.
“Can you believe that I will be impeached today,” he asked his followers, a stark question for a man on the verge of joining only two others on the roster of impeached US presidents.
Deeply aggrieved by the proceedings and mindful of how they will stain his legacy, Trump spent the 24 hours before the vote on the phone with top officials and Republican lawmakers, according to multiple people familiar with his calls, expressing outrage at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and looking ahead to what his trial in the Senate will look like.
As he watched conservative pundits on television bolster his views, Trump called for religious intervention.
“This shoild never happen to another President again,” he wrote, the misspelling of “should” hardly masking his outrage. “Say a prayer!”
Impeachment has consumed much of Trump’s days and nights this month, between dictating an irate letter to Pelosi, phoning his associates to vent into the wee hours and plotting his defense in a Senate trial.
He has been ranting about impeachment in phone calls with Republican members of Congress over the last several days and nights, according to multiple GOP sources.
On Wednesday morning, as debate began on the House floor over two articles of impeachment — one for abuse of power and another for obstructing the congressional investigation — Trump convened his usual morning meeting with top aides and members of the White House counsel’s office, a person familiar with the session said, who framed it as business as usual.
It’s a meeting Trump has held almost every day for weeks as aides plot their way forward after Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry in September.
In the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump said he wouldn’t be watching the impeachment vote in the House. But there is a plan to keep him updated and briefed on the day’s proceedings, according to a senior White House official.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement the President would be “working all day” but “could catch some of the proceedings between meetings.”
Ten minutes later, he was decrying “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS” on Twitter, his message written in capital letters.
Anything but routine
Life has hardly gone on as normal in the West Wing, even as many aides try sticking to routine. Days of impeachment hearings have blared on televisions in staffers’ offices. Trump has focused intently on how his Senate trial will proceed, discussing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell his desire for vindication — not simply an acquittal.
There have been bright spots, like the twin trade wins of a new North American trade pact and a preliminary deal with China; passage of a new Defense Department authorization that creates the Space Force and mandates paid family leave for federal workers; and a soaring stock market. Foreign leaders have continued to visit, including the presidents of Guatemala and Paraguay and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.
And in a gift to government workers, Trump on Tuesday declared Christmas Eve a federal holiday.
But the impeachment crisis still looms, particularly as Trump tweets and comments on it ceaselessly.
Last week, Trump and his aides — including speechwriter Stephen Miller — began drafting the scathing letter to Pelosi that was delivered on Tuesday, according to officials familiar with the matter, keeping the plan and text closely held within the West Wing until its public release.
Some White House officials who were not involved in the letter’s preparation said they were surprised when they saw the six-page document, which was indignant in tone and cited the Salem Witch Trials as a precedent to his situation.
There was an initial plan to release to letter on Monday, but officials moved the release to Tuesday as House members debated the rules of the upcoming impeachment vote.
In the missive, Trump claimed Pelosi of putting on a “false display of solemnity,” an accusation the House speaker appeared to ignore when she arrived on Capitol Hill on Wednesday wearing all black, a nod to the day’s gravity.
Trump’s allies were preparing for a day on defense. Vice President Mike Pence was traveling on a bus in Michigan and was expected to address the impeachment in his speech at an evening rally. Joining him was David Bossie, a onetime Trump campaign aide who earlier in his career served as a congressional investigator into President Bill Clinton ahead of the last impeachment vote.
Like the Clinton proceedings, this impeachment is playing out during the December holidays. On nearly every afternoon and evening over the past several weeks, Trump has carved out a moment or two from his stewing for something else: descending from his third-floor residence to appear at the yearly slate of glittery receptions hosted at the White House.
The sparkle and joy have made for a discordant feeling at a White House, where the cloud of impeachment looms even as the halls are decked with 22 evergreens, 14 golden magnolia topiaries and 10 floral urns, all “dusted with fresh-fallen snow,” according to the first lady’s office.
He was there on Tuesday — impeachment eve — to greet a crowd of supporters and friends, most of whom are standing staunchly beside him as he becomes only the third president in US history be be impeached.
Even as his letter to Pelosi was driving the evening newscasts, the President barely mentioned his impending impeachment to his guests. He made only a brief reference to the proceedings, saying “they have nothing,” according to one guest, and then moved on to talk about the year to come, saying “how wonderful 2020 will be.” He cited “good markets,” “good military,” and made a reference to the nearby band, saying “and a good band!”
Another guest said Trump spent time boasting during Monday’s party about Rep. Jeff Van Drew, the lawmaker who is expected to switch political parties from Democrat to Republican in opposition to the impeachment vote. Trump proclaimed Republicans were more unified than ever as the vote to impeach him neared.
Alongside him during his near-nightly appearances at the foot of the Grand Staircase has been the first lady, who introduces him to the crowd but doesn’t herself address the impeachment crisis. She’s remained almost entirely silent on the matter, weighing in only when her teenage son’s name was invoked during one of the congressional hearings.
Officials say the White House has hosted thousands of guests over the holidays. That includes lawmakers who came to the mansion decked out in formal wear last week for the Congressional Ball, even after a grueling day of impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. Some lawmakers’ spouses sat waiting in their finery in a Capitol Hill anteroom as the proceedings concluded.
Gone is the annual party for the news media, a tradition Trump scrapped last year. But receptions for supporters, friends, administration staff, diplomats and family remain.
Trump — who has proclaimed bizarrely that he made it OK to say “Merry Christmas” again — has not been in a particularly festive mood behind the scenes. But the holidays have a way of intervening. Even at the moment the House votes to impeach him Wednesday, Trump will likely be on stage in Battle Creek, Michigan — where he’s hosting a “Merry Christmas” campaign rally.
At last year’s Christmas event, Trump popped out from a chimney like Santa as fake snow flurried down.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Jim Acosta, Sarah Westwood, Manu Raju and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.