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Trump denies 'temper tantrum' in angry public episode

Posted at 6:27 PM, May 23, 2019

President Donald Trump ratcheted up his feud with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, turning an event organized to announce a multibillion-dollar aid package to farmers into a nearly half-hour-long diatribe against his Democratic rivals.

Rejecting Pelosi's characterization of his decision to scrap a meeting Wednesday with Democrats because of their continued investigations as a "temper tantrum," Trump accused Democratic officials of being "bad people," referred to Pelosi as "crazy Nancy" and enlisted several White House officials to publicly corroborate his account that he had addressed Democrats calmly -- and not in anger -- the previous day.

"They're a do-nothing group of people. The Democrats have done nothing other than to obstruct. They're obstructing this country," Trump said Thursday. "The Democrats have done nothing in the House, they've done absolutely nothing -- I mean other than investigate. They want to investigate."

As for himself, Trump once again proclaimed: "I'm an extremely stable genius."

Trump's anger at House Democrats' investigations had been steadily mounting for weeks, but Pelosi's accusation that the President had engaged in a "cover-up" sent him over the edge, prompting him to swear off policy talks with Democrats and shine a spotlight on what he considers Democrats' "phony investigations."

Now the President's advisers and allies are worrying about the fallout of his display of anger and Trump is signaling that he is prepared to dig in, multiple sources close to him told CNN.

Made-for-TV drama

In conversations with advisers in the 24 hours after Wednesday morning's made-for-TV drama, Trump has seesawed between emotions: lamenting the endless cloud of suspicion Democrats' investigations have kept over him while also saying he feels emboldened and empowered by this latest fight. One source who speaks with the President described him as "on fire" and newly "empowered."

Fueling his latest drive, two sources close to Trump said, were Democrats' moves to uncover information about his and his family finances and attempts to haul some of his most trusted aides before Congress. One source who spoke with the President said Trump said Democrats are trying to ruin his life.

"He sees that they are trying to destroy him and his family," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said.

Just this week, House Democrats crept unnervingly closer to obtaining personal financial information about Trump and his family from an accounting firm and two banks after federal judges quashed the President's bid to block subpoenas for the documents. And on Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee issued its latest subpoena for a top Trump aide to testify, this time setting its sights on his former communications director Hope Hicks , one of his longest-serving aides.

Officials said Trump was particularly bothered by the subpoena for Hicks, who earned familial status in the President's eyes, and Trump saw Democrats' attempts to question her as particularly galling given her uniquely close relationship with him.

Democrats' attempts to unearth his finances and to bring in his top aides for testimony both fed into Trump's belief that Democrats are overstepping and his frustration that the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did little to give him the clean slate he had hoped for.

"He wants this thing over," one source close to Trump said, referring to the investigations that have clouded his presidency.

And as Trump prepares to embark on a series of foreign trips -- Japan this weekend, the UK and France the next and then the G20 summit later next month -- his advisers, who once once held out hope that foreign trips could distract or preoccupy him from his grudges, have long abandoned those notions. Instead, aides are entering a heavy stretch of overseas travel resigned to a frustrated boss with ample time to fume at television or newspaper coverage of his predicament.

Like many of his trips abroad, Trump's upcoming travel to Japan and Europe appears destined to be overshadowed by developments back home, with subpoenas and court rulings being handed down at regular intervals. It's a scenario Trump has said undermines him on the world stage as he meets with foreign leaders, many of whom closely follow US political developments, though they rarely raise them with the President himself.

Frustration permeates

Members of Congress who have talked to Trump in recent days also said he is growing increasingly frustrated by the toll the Democratic investigations are taking not only on his family, but also on his ability to conduct business abroad.

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, who spoke with Trump on Thursday morning about the defense reauthorization bill, said the President told him that he views the Democratic investigations as deterring his ability to negotiate effectively on trade and other areas.

"He did bring up his frustration," the North Dakota Republican said. "He said, 'You'd think that after all this that they would be done, but they just want to rehash the same old thing,' and he said, 'I am trying to do this thing with China.' "

One Republican senator, who asked not to be identified to discuss Trump's thinking, said that they think Trump is "rightfully frustrated."

"If I were the President, after having been under a microscope for two years having people prosecute something that a special counsel has drawn a conclusion that there was no collusion, there was no obstruction, yeah, I'd be frustrated," the senator said.

But as Trump threatened for the second time in six months not to engage with Democrats on advancing policy so long as they pursued investigations into him and his administration, some of his advisers worried his latest salvo will have the opposite effect, stalling work to advance key priorities in Congress.

Trump scrapped his meeting with Democrats and issued that threat just as his administration had begun to make headway in discussions with Democrats about ratifying the USMCA, the revamped NAFTA free trade agreement. The White House views ratification of the trade deal as one of its top priorities leading into the 2020 campaign, which Trump has already touted as a signature achievement.

Pelosi had in recent days signaled her intent to form working groups to discuss key Democratic concerns about the agreement with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Yet even as Trump refused to discuss policy issues with Democrats on Wednesday, he suggested Thursday that his one-track mindset should not apply to the trade agreement.

"If they don't get the USMCA that would be very bad," Trump said. "This is a great deal for our country."