By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump fired back on Wednesday at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accusation that he is engaged in a cover-up over the Mueller Russia investigation, saying at a hastily arranged White House appearance, “I don’t do cover-ups.”
Visibly angered by Pelosi’s remarks, Trump also said he would not work with Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, on a major infrastructure proposal because of “phony” investigations they are pursuing in Congress.
The Republican president added that he was upset that Democratic lawmakers discussed the possibility of impeaching him before a White House meeting on infrastructure.
Trump repeated his previous rhetoric about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia’s interference in Trump’s favor in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and whether Trump impeded Mueller’s inquiry. “No collusion, no obstruction, no nothing,” Trump said. “This whole thing was a take-down attempt at the president of the United States.”
Regarding the infrastructure meeting, Trump said, “I walked into the room and I told Senator (Chuck) 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’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”
Afterward, at a press conference with Senate Democratic Leader Schumer, Pelosi told reporters Trump may have lacked the confidence to work with Democrats on infrastructure. She said she prays for Trump.
Schumer said watching what happened at the meeting between the president and Democratic lawmakers “would make your jaw drop.” He said that when Trump was asked how he would pay for an infrastructure plan, “he had to run away.”
As Democrats in Congress debated impeaching Trump, Pelosi said on Wednesday, about an hour before a White House meeting with him, that Trump is engaged in a “cover-up.”
The president is stonewalling multiple congressional investigations by ignoring subpoenas, refusing to allow current and former advisers to testify, and not handing over documents, steps that have aggravated a confrontation with Congress.
“No one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Pelosi told reporters after a morning meeting of House Democrats.
She and other congressional leaders met briefly with Trump just before his appearance before reporters to talk about a potential bipartisan infrastructure development plan, although a firm proposal for funding any such effort has yet to emerge. The meeting lasted only a few minutes.
Trump and Democrats who control the House are engaged in a high-stakes power struggle over their ability to investigate him, with the president increasingly asserting that his advisers need not respond to lawmakers’ inquiries.
Their probes range from whether Trump obstructed justice during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in Trump’s favor in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to his personal finances and businesses.
As the confrontation has escalated, Pelosi and other senior House leaders have been trying to tamp down demands from more junior Democratic lawmakers to kick off impeachment proceedings, urging them to give court enforcement actions time to progress.
The Democratic House Intelligence Committee chairman has agreed to hold off enforcing a subpoena against Attorney General William Barr after the Justice Department said it would turn over materials relating to Mueller’s probe. The decision ended a standoff between the committee and the Justice Department for access to counterintelligence reports generated by Mueller.
“The Department of Justice … this week will begin turning over to the committee twelve categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials,” committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement on Wednesday.
Several House Democrats left Wednesday morning’s meeting telling reporters that Schiff’s deal might cool some of the passion for immediately moving toward impeachment
But impeachment demands have mounted since former White House Counsel Don McGahn ignored a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to appear before it and testify.
Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly told reporters that Pelosi was working to balance the demands of Democrats in the House. But he added, “I am increasingly concerned that this president has committed impeachable offenses.”
Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee that is demanding Trump’s tax returns, said he agrees with Pelosi and most committee chairs on not jumping to impeachment now.
Pascrell has been a Pelosi critic, but he said, “On this one I think she’s absolutely correct; the methodical approach.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan, Mohammed Zargham and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)