Washington: An enraged US President Donald Trump said Tuesday, on the eve of his likely impeachment in Congress, that he is victim of an “attempted coup” with fewer rights than at a witch trial.
In an extraordinarily angry six-page letter, Trump told Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the Democratic-led House of Representatives, that “history will judge you harshly.”
Referring to a famous miscarriage of justice and religious extremism in the 17th century United States, resulting in 20 executions, Trump said he’d been given less rights than “those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”
The House, bitterly divided between the Democratic majority and Trump’s Republicans, is expected to impeach the president for abuse of office in a vote on Wednesday.
Trump is accused of attempting to force Ukraine into what would have been a damaging announcement of an unfounded probe into a main 2020 reelection rival, Joe Biden.
He is also accused of obstructing Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation, barring staff from testifying and holding back documentary evidence.
The Republican-led Senate is seen as sure to acquit him at a trial likely to take place in January.
In remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump rejected that he’d done anything wrong.
“It’s a total sham,” he said.
Asked if he took any responsibility for the crisis, he said: “I don’t take any, zero.”
His letter, on White House paper and ending with his characteristic oversized signature in thick black pen, featured an outpouring of frustration and fury — especially against Pelosi.
He accused the veteran Democratic politician of “breaking your allegiance to the Constitution” and “declaring open war on American Democracy.”
On Sunday, Trump had tweeted to his tens of millions of followers that Pelosi’s teeth were “falling out of her mouth.”
Democrats do the numbers
Pelosi is in charge of ensuring that her party will stand firm when it comes to the impeachment vote.
Some Democratic representatives come from pro-Trump districts and there were questions over whether they’d risk joining the vote.
But after several of the swing-state Democrats came out in support, Trump’s fate in the House appeared sealed.
“My military service taught me to put our country — not politics — first, and my time as a federal prosecutor taught me about the importance of the rule of law and of justice,” declared Mikie Sherrill, a first-term representative from a Trump-leaning district in New Jersey.
“I will be voting in favour of the articles of impeachment.”
“I know some people will be angry at my decision, but I was elected to do what is right, not politically safe,” said Anthony Brindisi, another first-term Democrat, from a conservative new York constituency.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 233 to 197 in the House and only a simple majority is required to impeach.
While Democrats say Trump’s actions with Ukraine amounted to abuse of power, Republicans back the president’s argument that he never pressured the country or tried to get it to interfere in the 2020 race.
“The House impeachment articles are a joke,” Senator Josh Hawley told pro-Trump Fox News. “This whole thing is a joke and it’s time to get the president exonerated.”
Acquittal in the Senate should be straightforward, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 53-47 and a conviction requiring a two-thirds majority.
Tensions in Congress
Tensions are already boiling over in Congress.
At a hearing in the House Rules Committee, which sets out the procedures for votes, senior Republican Doug Collins accused Democrats of trying to rush through the impeachment.
“There will be a day of reckoning,” Collins warned. “Whatever you may gain will be short-lived.”
A fight is also underway in the Senate over what form the trial will take.
Democrats are insisting on calling White House officials as witnesses, but Republicans appear to want to put the entire scandal to rest.
Senior Democrat Chuck Schumer wants Trump’s chief of staff, former national security advisor and two others to testify.
But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who can largely set the rules, rejected this and dismissed any idea that the trial wasn’t a purely political exercise.
“I think we’re going to get almost an entirely partisan impeachment,” he said.
“This is a political process. There is nothing judicial about it. I’m not impartial about this at all.”