Trump hits back against impeachment hearings, defends Giuliani's Ukraine dealings

Trump gave his first extensive interview since the House Intelligence Committee wrapped up two weeks of public hearings in its impeachment inquiry.

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By Adam Edelman

Less than 24 hours after the House wrapped up a marathon round of public impeachment hearings, President Donald Trump on Friday hit back hard, denying all wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine, insulting witnesses and key Democrats involved in the inquiry, and defending putting Rudy Giuliani in charge of a parallel policy process in Ukraine.

Over two weeks of public hearings, multiple witnesses told the House Intelligence Committee that Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow policy team with the goal of pressuring the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into Burisma — the Ukrainian gas company that Hunter Biden joined as a board member in 2014 — and debunked conspiracies that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.

Trump, however, defended his decision to put Giuliani, a private citizen, in the middle of Ukraine policy Friday, citing his experience, decades ago, in fighting corruption as a U.S. attorney and as the mayor of New York City.

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“Rudy is a great crime fighter,” Trump said during a telephone interview with "Fox and Friends" that stretched nearly an hour. He lauded his old friend as “the best mayor” and “a very legendary figure in our country.”

“He’s also a friend of mine,” Trump added. “A great person, an iconic figure in this country.”

“He’s got credentials,” the president said. “When Rudy Giuliani goes there and it’s a corrupt country, it means a lot.”

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Two associates of Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who helped the former mayor dig for dirt in Ukraine on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, were indicted last month on charges that they were funneling money from foreign entities to U.S. candidates in a plot to buy political influence.

Trump, in his interview, also rebutted the accounts of several key impeachment inquiry witnesses who testified publicly over the last two weeks — including Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine.

When it came to Sondland, who’d testified that he had a direct line to Trump and that there had been clear quid pro quo effort to trade a White House meeting Ukraine wanted for investigations desired by Trump and Giuliani, Trump said Friday the allegations were “total nonsense” and that he “hardly” knows Sondland.

Trump also said he didn’t know Volker, who, in revised testimony said that he came to understand that figures in the Trump administration sought an investigation into the Biden family and that they told Ukraine's government that millions in military aid depended on it.

When it came to Yovanovitch — whom Trump had already debased on Twitter while she testified — he alleged that Republican lawmakers had told him he should be “kind to her” because “she’s a woman.”

He also said he was angry with her because “she wouldn’t hang my picture in the (U.S.) embassy (in Ukraine).”

Lawyers representing Yovanovitch said this claim is false.

"The Embassy in Kyiv‎ hung the official photographs of the president, vice president, and secretary of state as soon as they arrived from Washington, D.C.," a person connected to her legal team said Friday.

The Washington Post reported in October 2017 that the White House released its official portraits nine months after Trump was sworn in, and that the reason for the Trump administration's delay in making the images available to government offices was unclear.

Trump, in the interview, went on to slam House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who ran the public hearings, as a “sick puppy” and said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was “crazy as a bedbug.”

“They tried to impeach,” Trump said. “They looked like fools.”

And he wouldn’t back down from his belief in a conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election in a way that favored Hillary Clinton and hurt his campaign — a widely debunked theory that contributed to the impeachment inquiry in the first place because Trump told his Ukrainian counterpart he wanted the accusation investigated.

“They have the server from the DNC,” Trump insisted about Ukraine on Friday. “And I still want to see that server.”

When asked by the “Fox and Friends” hosts if he was “sure” about that claim, Trump responded, ”Well, that’s what the word is.”

Geoff Bennett contributed.