WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, trying to dig out from political holes of his own making on top of the expanding House impeachment inquiry, held forth for 71 minutes Monday during what was ostensibly a Cabinet meeting but ended up being a familiar torrent of grievance, defensiveness and bold statements about his expansive view of his own powers.
After reversing on his plan to hold the next Group of 7 summit at his Doral, Fla., golf resort, Trump dismissed criticism that he was profiting off his presidency.
“The Democrats went crazy,” Trump said, commenting on criticism that he was using the presidency to enrich himself. “You don’t think I get enough promotion? I get more promotion than every human being that has ever lived. I don’t need promotion. It would have been the greatest G-7 ever.
“You people with this phony Emoluments Clause,” Trump said, commenting on the clause in the Constitution that bars federal officials from taking emoluments, or forms of payment or profit, from any “king, prince or foreign state” as an ethics guideline.
The president repeated his claim that he had lost billions of dollars by becoming president, particularly in the hospitality sector, and asserted that holding the G-7 event at Doral would have saved the country money.
“I’m making a big difference for the country,” Trump said. “So whether I lost $2 billion, $5 billion, more or less, it doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t care. If you’re rich, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing this for the country.”
The president has faced fierce bipartisan criticism in the last week over Doral and his order to withdraw 1,000 remaining U.S. troops from northern Syria.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence announced a five-day cease-fire agreement in Syria that would leave Turkey in control of a wide swath of Syrian territory, force U.S.-allied Kurdish militias to withdraw and require the U.S. to drop its newly imposed sanctions against Turkey.
“We have a good relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said. “But we never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives. … Where is the agreement that we need to stay in the Middle East for the rest of civilization to protect the Kurds?”
Since the announcement, both Turkish and Kurdish forces have alleged violations. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 people have been displaced in two weeks.
“I think when it started for a few days, it was so nasty that when we went to Turkey and we went to the Kurds, they agreed to do things that they never would have done before the shooting started,” Trump said.
“If they didn’t go through two-and-a-half days of hell, I don’t think they would have done it. I don’t think you could have made a deal,” he added. “But we’re close to making it. We’ll see what happens.”
The president reinforced his administration’s decision to keep some U.S. troops in eastern Syria to protect Kurdish-held oil fields. Trump repeatedly said he wanted to “keep the oil.”
“We’ll work something out with the Kurds so that they have some money, so that they have some cash flow. Maybe we’ll get one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly.”
Trump also addressed the impeachment inquiry at the Cabinet meeting, directing his ire at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y).
“It’s a very bad thing what they’re doing. The president of the United States should be allowed to run the country, not have to focus on this kind of crap while, at the same time, doing a great job on Syria and Turkey and all of the other things that we’re doing.”
Trump said House Democrats are pushing to impeach him because he believes they wouldn’t beat him in the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s so illegitimate. This cannot be the way our great founders meant this to be,” Trump said. “I think they want to impeach me because it’s the only way they’re going to win.”
By Alexa Díaz and Eli Stokols
Los Angeles Times