Donald Trump has launched fresh attacks on the congressional architects of his impeachment, even as the standoff intensified between Democrats in the US House and Republicans in the Senate over the president’s impending trial, and appeared set to last well into the new year.
And on a less grave note, Trump revealed in a video conference with US troops to deliver Christmas greetings that, despite it being the morning of 24 December, he had not yet bought his wife her Christmas present.
And as for North Korea’s warning of a “Christmas gift” for America amid stalled nuclear weapons talks, Trump said the US would “deal with it”.
Then he left for his golf course.
On Tuesday, Christmas Eve, Trump accused the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, of uncertainty over the articles of impeachment, voted on in Washington last week, that charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
On Monday House lawyers signaled in court filings that they were mulling an additional article of impeachment against Trump relating to obstruction of justice during the Trump-Russia investigation. They demanded that the former White House counsel Don McGahn testify and requested the release of grand jury material from the investigation.
The current articles of impeachment center on Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate the president’s US political rivals, chiefly 2020 candidate Joe Biden, in return for crucial US military aid to the former Soviet republic.
“Everything we’re seeing … suggests that they’re in real doubt about the evidence they’ve brought forth so far not being good enough, and are very, very urgently seeking a way to find some more evidence,” the president tweeted early on Tuesday.
Trump continued: “The only way to make this work is to ... mount some kind of public pressure to demand witnesses, but McConnell has the votes and he can run this trial anyway he wants to.”
Trump’s effort to recapture the conversation came after Pelosi last week triggered a showdown with the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, by delaying the official delivery of the two impeachment articles from the House to the Senate in an attempt to negotiate terms for the resulting congressional trial. McConnell has already declared that he has no intention of being an “impartial juror”.
Speaking to reporters in Florida on Tuesday, Trump said of Pelosi: “She’s doing a tremendous disservice to the country” and claimed Democrats “had no evidence at all” about presidential misconduct.
Other Republicans protested about possible moves for additional articles of impeachment.
“Democrats are treating impeachment as an open bar tab, tweeted the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. “Time to cut them off, take their car keys away (put GOP in control of the House), and end this insanity.”
Article 1 of the United States constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to initiate impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments of the president. A president can be impeached if they are judged to have committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" – although the US Constitution does not specify what “high crimes and misdemeanors” are.
The formal process starts with the House of Representatives passing articles of impeachment, the equivalent of congressional charges. A simple majority of members need to vote in favour of impeachment for it to pass to the next stage. Democrats currently control the House.
The chief justice of the US Supreme Court then presides over proceedings in the Senate. The president is tried, with senators acting as the jury. For the president to be found guilty two-thirds of senators must vote to convict. Republicans currently control the Senate.
Two presidents have previously been impeached, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Andrew Johnson in 1868, though neither was removed from office as a result. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before there was a formal vote to impeach him.
At the weekend, Schumer said that emails released on Friday showing that military aid to Ukraine was suspended 90 minutes after Trump demanded “a favor” from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy only strengthened his party’s demands for more documentation.
With Congress out of action until early January, there is no sign of a resolution to the impeachment impasse or a date for the trial.
“We’ll find out when we come back in session where we are,” McConnell said. On Monday, he told Fox News the delay in sending the articles to the Senate was “absurd” and predicted Pelosi would back down “sooner or later”. He added he had “not ruled out” calling witnesses to the eventual trial.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday morning, Trump spoke by video link from his Mar-a-Lago resort with US troops stationed around the world, calling them “tremendous warriors”. He at first joked that they could decline a pay rise due to them in January, before adding: “You’ve earned it.”
When one soldier asked Trump what he had bought first lady Melania Trump for Christmas, the president revealed that he is behind on his shopping.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “I got her a beautiful card … A lot of love. We love our family, and we love each other. We’ve had a great relationship, hopefully like you do with your spouses.”
Then he added: “I’m still working on a Christmas present. There’s a little time left. Not much, but a little time left.”
The president also said he and China’s president, Xi Jinping, will have a signing ceremony for the first phase of the US-China trade deal agreed to this month.
“We will be having a signing ceremony, yes,” Trump told reporters. “We will ultimately, yes, when we get together. And we’ll be having a quicker signing because we want to get it done. The deal is done, it’s just being translated right now.”
Speaking in Beijing on Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said both countries were in close contact.
“Both sides’ economic and trade teams are in close communication about detailed arrangements for the deal’s signing and other follow-up work,” Geng told a daily news briefing. He did not elaborate.
Beijing has not yet confirmed specific components of the deal that were released by US officials. A spokesman for China’s commerce ministry said last week the details would be made public after the official signing.
Pool reporters were invited to Mar-a-Lago to watch the president’s video address and ask questions.
Trump said Democrats “ought to look back on the last year to see how they’ve hurt this country”.
He added: “If you just go by what you see in the papers, it’s incredible what’s going on. We had dirty cops. We had people spying on my campaign. They did terrible things…it’s very sad.”
This despite the report earlier this month of the Department of Justice watchdog Michael Horowitz that said that despite some serious errors along the way, his principal conclusion was that the FBI’s initiation of the Trump-Russia investigation was justified and was not motivated by political bias against Trump, nor involved what the Trump administration has called “illegal spying”.
And the president said that in the face of any action over Christmas by North Korea, the US would “deal with it very successfully”, while joking that maybe any such gift would be “a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test”.
Later, for the third day in a row, Trump travelled by presidential motorcade to the nearby Trump International Golf Club.
The Trumps attended Christmas Eve service at a Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated church before celebrating the holiday with dinner in the ballroom of his private club. The pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, Jimmy Scroggins, and his family greeted the Trumps as they arrived and took their reserved seats in the church’s third pew.
Attending Family Church was a change of pace for the Trumps, who had attended holiday services in the past at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, the Episcopal Church in Palm Beach at which they were married in 2005. The Trumps then returned to his private club for Christmas Eve dinner. Trump, less than a week after being impeached by the House, did not respond when asked by a reporter if he prayed for Nancy Pelosi at church, but he said: “We’re going to have a great year.”