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Trump juggles statecraft and impeachment on a historic day

Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Projecting unusual calm in the middle of a political firestorm, President Donald Trump pleaded ignorance Wednesday about the first public impeachment hearing, unexpectedly insisting that he really wasn't paying attention to sworn testimony in the House Intelligence Committee that could determine whether he serves out his term in office.

The disclaimer might be more credible if Trump hadn't already tweeted or retweeted about the hearing 34 times earlier in the day -- including mocking the Democrats' use of what he called "television lawyers" to help question witnesses.

Known for his addiction to cable television, the former reality TV star-turned-president insisted he didn't watch the historic hearing "for one minute," suggesting he was more focused on weightier matters of statecraft.

"I hear it's a joke," Trump said at a joint news conference in the White House East Room with the visiting president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "I've been with the president, which is much more important."

Asked about the first day's ostensible bombshell -- the disclosure by William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine, that one of his aides had personally heard Trump discuss his demand for investigations of Democrats on a cellphone call to an official in Kyiv -- Trump professed bewilderment.

"I know nothing about that," Trump said. "First time I've heard of it."

 

Trump's casual, almost breezy dismissal suggested he and his aides were adjusting to the new public phase of the impeachment inquiry by, at least for now, casting the proceedings as boring.

Too boring, he seemed eager to convey, to merit any of his time.

His mild comments came as a surprise if only because Trump is not known for message discipline, and normally spews his anger or disdain with relentless 140-character certainty. Indeed, several hours earlier he had accused his accusers -- Taylor and George Kent, an assistant secretary of state, the first two witnesses -- of being "NEVER TRUMPERS."

Asked about Trump's tweet in the hearing, both diplomats denied that characterization, describing themselves as nonpartisan career professionals who had served for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

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