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President Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted "phony investigations" and Democratic calls for his impeachment, saying during a surprise White House press conference "this whole thing was a take-down attempt at the president of the United States."
His comments came after he walked out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other congressional leaders that was supposed to discuss how to fund national infrastructure improvements.
"I don't do cover-ups," Trump fumed to reporters in the Rose Garden. "Get these phony investigations over with."
The infrastructure meeting at the White House had started, and abruptly ended, not long after Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that "we believe the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up."
Pelosi in recent days has come under pressure from members of her party to start impeachment proceedings against Trump for his blocking of testimony to congressional panels by current and former administration officials and by refusing to turn over documents.
Trump cited Pelosi's comments, calling them "inconsiderate," before he walked out of the Cabinet meeting room, according to Democratic aides who spoke to NBC News.
Pelosi then said to others still in the room, "I knew the president was not serious about infrastructure and would find a way out," a Democratic aide said.
The president's press conference stunned members of the media at the White House, who had no advance notice of it and were expecting to be reporting details of the infrastructure meeting.
"This whole thing was a take-down attempt at the president of the United States," Trump told reporters, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign, and possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself.
Mueller, in his final report, said Russian agents did try to influence the outcome of the election to benefit Trump but did not find evidence that members of Trump's campaign coordinated with Russians in that effort. Mueller said he "found multiple acts by the President" that could have exercised "undue influence" over law enforcement investigations, including the Russia probe, but did not conclude whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Trump said the media should be "ashamed" of themselves for how they have reported on Mueller's investigation.
"Here's the bottom line: There was no collusion, there was no obstruction," the president said. "The crime was committed on the other side."
"I don't speak to Russians about campaigns," Trump said. "It's a hoax. The greatest hoax in history."
Trump repeatedly used the phrase "the 'I' word" during the press conference, referring to calls by an increasing number of Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry in the House.
"Whether or not they carry the big 'I' word out, I can't imagine that, but they will do whatever they have to do. There is a danger here," Trump said. "If some day a Democrat becomes president and you have a Republican House, they can impeach him for any reason, or her, any reason. We can't allow that to happen. We can't allow it to happen."
Asked if he respected Congress as a co-equal branch of government with rights to oversight over the executive branch, Trump said, "I respect the courts. I respect Congress. I respect right here where we're standing. But what they have done is abuse."
"This is investigation Number 4 on the same thing. Probably five. And it really started I think pretty much from the time we came down the escalator in Trump Tower," the president said, referring to the launch of his campaign for the White House in 2015. "We're doing a lot without them. Let them play their games. We're going to go down one track at a time. Let them finish up and we'll be all set."
"These are the people that after two years and $40 million or $35 million, it will end up being a lot more than that by the time all of it is done. This is what happened," Trump said, citing the cost of the Mueller probe.
"No collusion. No obstruction. No nothing. They issued 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers. Think of that — 500 witnesses. And then I have Nancy Pelosi go out and say that the president of the United States engaged in a cover-up. Now, we've had a House investigation. We have Senate investigations. We have investigations like nobody has ever had, and we did nothing wrong. They would have loved to have said we colluded. They would have loved it. These people were out to get us. The Republican Party and President Trump. They were out to get us. This was a one-sided horrible thing."
Schumer later told reporters: "To watch what happened in the White House will make your jaw drop."
The New York Democrat said he believed Trump went into the meeting with the plan of canceling it — and then holding a purportedly spontaneous press conference — because he was not prepared to make a commitment for how much to spend and how to fund improvements on infrastructure.
"It's clear that this was not a spontaneous move on the president's part. It was planned," Schumer said, noting that there were printed signs in the Rose Garden referring to details of the Mueller probe before Trump walked out to give his remarks. Handouts containing that information about the Mueller investigation were given to reporters after Trump spoke.
Pelosi said, "I pray for the president of the United States, and I pray for the United States."
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin described the events leading up to Trump's press conference.
"High drama in the Cabinet room," the Illinois Democrat said. "We were all invited, Democratic leaders, for the follow-up meeting on infrastructure, everyone showed up, sat in their chairs, the president walked in the room and announced he was not going to go forward with the meeting, he was canceling it."
He said Trump "objected to the continued investigation of obstruction of justice." Durbin added that Trump insisted "he cooperated and gave him side of the story, as we've heard before."
"I don't know where this leaves us as a nation. We have so many things that need to be done for this country, and they can't be done unless we work together. And if the president walks out of the meeting. It's a setback to our country's progress."
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