President Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House from Marine One to the Oval Office on May 17. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post)

President Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House from Marine One to the Oval Office on May 17. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post)

Trump targets House Democrats as they discuss impeachment

The president’s Twitter rant came about three hours before a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting.

By John Wagner, Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump aimed a barrage of tweets at House Democrats early Wednesday morning questioning their priorities as they prepared for a meeting to discuss investigations into the administration and growing calls for impeachment proceedings.

In his tweets, Trump claimed that Democrats are “getting ZERO work done in Congress” and are instead focused on what he called a continuation of a “Witch Hunt” into whether he sought to obstruct special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” Trump wrote in the fourth in a series of tweets that began before 6 a.m.

The president’s Twitter rant came about three hours before a scheduled closed-door Democratic caucus meeting called by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. It has been billed as an opportunity for members to receive updates on oversight and investigations.

But many lawmakers said Tuesday that they expect it will become a robust discussion of whether to pursue an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Democrats have become increasingly frustrated with the administration’s blanket refusal to cooperate with congressional requests for documents and testimony. That included the White House’s refusal to allow former counsel Donald McGahn to testify at a hearing Tuesday about key aspects of Mueller’s report.

Trump’s tweets, ironically, could help Pelosi make her case in the caucus meeting as she tries to tamp down any impeachment talk. The speaker has argued that Democrats need to focus on their legislative agenda and the issues that won them the House majority in 2018, including health care, lest Republicans accuse them of being obsessed with issues that don’t help voters.

Pelosi is also expected to encourage members to stay the course in their investigations and argue that the courts are coming to Democrats’ rescue. A judge on Monday upheld a congressional subpoena being challenged by Trump’s lawyers, reaffirming Congress’s long-standing role in conducting oversight despite the White House move to block all investigations.

A Democratic aide familiar with Pelosi’s plan said she’ll have the six chairmen leading investigations into Trump “give Members an update on the recent court victories and progress made on oversight of the Trump Administration.” That appears to be a direct attempt to counter the growing impression that the White House is mucking up Hill probes.

Ahead of the meeting, a Democrat speaking anonymously to describe private conversations candidly, said pro-impeachment lawmakers were concerned the meeting would amount to committee chairman “circling the wagons” around Pelosi’s measured stance.

“We are hopeful that she will say that an impeachment inquiry is on the table and that there is obviously powerful sentiment for it,” the lawmaker said.

Pelosi called the caucus-wide huddle amid increased pressure by some of her members to begin an impeachment inquiry. On Monday night, a band of frustrated House Judiciary Committee members – including powerful Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. – confronted Pelosi on her no-impeachment position and encouraged her to green-light an inquiry.

Pelosi refused, arguing that the caucus is not behind the move and that it would impede other committees in pursuing their investigations.

Pro-impeachment members, however, argue that an impeachment inquiry will enable investigators to more quickly secure documents and witness testimony that the White House has blocked at every turn. Since Monday, about 25 lawmakers have gone public to call for an inquiry to begin.

To ease the pressure and the tension, Pelosi has privately signaled that she will green-light more aggressive investigative measures, according to several lawmakers. They expect her and her leadership team to schedule a contempt vote in June against Attorney General William Barr and potentially former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who failed to comply with a Hill subpoena, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has denied Congress’s request for Trump’s tax returns.

Pelosi, these lawmakers say, is also talking about so-called inherent contempt in a real way now. That includes potentially tweaking House rules to allow chairmen to slap steep fines on Trump officials who ignore subpoenas.

Since taking control of the House in January, Democrats have passed several legislative measures, including bills on health care and ethics reform, that have not been taken up in the Republican-led Senate.

The tension over stepped-up House oversight of Trump comes amid continuing discussions of one potential issue on which both Trump and Pelosi have expressed hope for cooperation: investing in the country’s ailing infrastructure. Trump is scheduled to meet later Tuesday morning on the subject with Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and others.

But prospects for a deal seemed to have dimmed since Trump held an initial meeting with Democratic leaders several weeks ago at which there was an agreement on a goal of spending $2 trillion on roads, bridges, rail, airports and other infrastructure.

In a letter to Pelosi and Schumer on Tuesday night, Trump wrote that it is his “strong view” that Congress should pass the trade deal his administration negotiated with Canada and Mexico before turning its full attention to infrastructure.

The White House has stepped up pressure on Congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement by this summer amid continuing Democratic concerns about parts of the deal.

During an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders accused Democrats of “dragging their feet” on the trade deal and chastised them for talking about impeachment.

“Hopefully they’re going to have a come-to-Jesus moment where they realize what a terrible idea this is,” Sanders said of the planned Democratic caucus meeting.

In his morning tweets, Trump continued to question why Democrats were interested in hearing the testimony from his aides and others who were interviewed as part of Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller’s report concluded that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election “in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

The report did not find sufficient evidence to bring charges of criminal conspiracy with Russia against Trump or anyone associated with his campaign. It did not offer a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice.

Attorney General William Barr later concluded that there was not sufficient evidence for obstruction of justice, but House Democrats are continuing to pursue that issue.

“After two years of an expensive and comprehensive Witch Hunt, the Democrats don’t like the result and they want a DO OVER,” Trump said in one of his morning tweets. “In other words, the Witch Hunt continues!”

In another, he claimed to have done nothing wrong and suggested that Democrats were now on a fishing expedition.

In a later tweet, Trump claimed that his job approval number would be 65 percent if not for the Mueller investigation. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week found that 38 percent of registered voters approve of the job Trump is doing, while 57 percent disapprove.

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