US President Donald Trump has quit a meeting with congressional Democrats, saying he would no longer work with them unless they drop their investigations into him.
After the truncated meeting with the Democratic leaders, scheduled for a discussion of US infrastructure problems, Mr Trump lashed out at House speaker Nancy Pelosi for her comment earlier in the morning that she believed the president engaged in a “cover up” of the Russia probe.
The president then strode to the Rose Garden where aides had gathered reporters and TV cameras for his demand that Congress drop its investigations that are increasingly leading to talk of what he called the “I-word” – impeachment.
“I walked into the room and I told leader Schumer and speaker Pelosi I want to do infrastructure,” he said, referring to the top Democratic senator, New York’s Chuck Schumer.
“But you know what we can’t do it under these circumstances,” Mr Trump said. “So get these phoney investigations over.”
Ms Pelosi said Mr Trump “just took a pass” on working on national infrastructure problems. She said she would be praying for him.
She told reporters after a private meeting of House Democrats that Mr Trump is “engaged in a cover up”, even as she tried to tamp down some Democrats’ rush toward an impeachment inquiry.
Ms Pelosi and five of her top investigative committee leaders spoke with fellow Democrats after an increasing number called for the beginning of an impeachment inquiry following special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia election meddling and contacts with the Trump campaign.
Those Democrats say the move would not necessarily be aimed at removing the president, but instead to bolster their position in court as Mr Trump has broadly stonewalled their investigations. Some two dozen House Democrats have signed on.
With her leadership team, Ms Pelosi, who has resisted pressure to impeach, pointed rank-and-file Democrats toward the legal battles that she said have already found success in forcing Mr Trump to comply with investigations.
“We do believe it’s important to follow the facts,” Ms Pelosi told reporters afterwards.
“We believe that 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 — in a cover-up.”
A growing number of Democrats, incensed by former White House counsel Don McGahn’s defiance of a House panel’s subpoena to give evidence, have confronted Ms Pelosi and pushed her and other leaders to act.
Ms Pelosi has said she believes Mr Trump is “goading” Democrats into impeachment. And Mr Trump appeared to relish the Democratic division in a tweet.
He tweeted: “The Democrats are getting ZERO work done in Congress.”