HERSHEY, Pa. — President Donald Trump bashed the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday just hours after House Democrats introduced two articles of impeachment against him, calling them “flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous."
“They are now admitting that there was no collusion, no obstruction of justice, there are no crimes," Trump told a crowd of thousands of supporters at the Giant Center. "They are impeaching me and there are no crimes. This has to be a first."
The two articles of impeachment announced Tuesday charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote to pass the articles before leaving for the holiday recess, which would make Trump the third president in American history to be impeached.
"People are saying, 'There's not even a crime, what happened?'" Trump said. "This is the lightest, weakest impeachment.”
Less than an hour after Democrats unveiled the articles of impeachment Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that the party was ready to move forward with the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), an updated version of the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
For months, Trump has criticized Pelosi and Democrats, saying they had allowed their interest in impeachment to distract from important legislative issues such as passing the updated trade deal.
“I am thrilled to report that we are on the verge of ending the NAFTA catastrophe once and for all,” Trump said here Tuesday night, arguing that the timing of Pelosi's announcement was not a coincidence.
"It plays down the impeachment because they are embarrassed about impeachment. And our poll numbers have gone through the roof because of her stupid impeachment," Trump said, calling the USMCA deal the "silver lining" of the "witch hunt."
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Trump also addressed the long-awaited report by the Justice Department Inspector General released on Monday that said the decision to launch an FBI investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election was justified, though the bureau mishandled parts of its application to monitor a Trump campaign aide as part of the probe.
The overall finding did not alter the president's usual tone on the investigation, which he painted as as politically biased plot against him as he said the report detailed "abuses of power" by "anti-Trump” individuals, saying it included evidence that the lives of “great people" were “destroyed by scum.”
Trump also mocked former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, frequent targets of the president's, baselessly claiming that Page filed a restraining order against Strzok.
“Did I hear they needed a restraining order after this whole thing to keep him away from Lisa?" Trump said, adding, "I don’t know if it's true.”
Earlier Tuesday, Page announced that she was suing the Justice Department and FBI for allegedly illegally leaking her personal messages with Strzok in violation of her privacy and making her a public target of the president's.
Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point, or 44,292 votes. The state will be critical to his re-election in 2020, but recreating his 2016 success will not be easy. Recent Pennsylvania polls of registered voters in the state suggest Trump is trailing leading 2020 Democratic candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Trump's campaign and his allies have insisted that impeachment will not jeopardize his re-election chances, but help solidify his base and motivate them to turn out.
Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, said that Trump's supporters in the state agree with his take on the impeachment process, and that Trump's job will be to get them excited to show up to vote for him again.
“Trump’s hope is to generate more enthusiasm among his core supporters. I think they will hang in with him, as they have nationally. It’s not about holding their support, but about generating excitement and enthusiasm,” Madonna said in an email to NBC News.
For some of Trump's supporters here Tuesday night, the impeachment inquiry was doing the trick.
“The Democratic Party, in my opinion, is anti-American. I’m sorry, but it is true when all they want to do is impeach him,” said Kevin Andrews, a retired health care worker from the area.
“I think the Democrats need to do their job and leave him alone,” said Patricia Wolfe of Pennsylvania. “The way they don’t respect the president is unpatriotic.”