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Trump travels from sunny Swiss retreat back to impeachment storm

As he left Davos for Washington, just hours before the second day of debate in his Senate impeachment trial, Trump was eager to dive back into the fray.
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DAVOS, Switzerland — President Donald Trump departed the sunny Swiss mountain retreat of the world’s elite here Wednesday morning for the storm raging in Washington.

After a mostly warm welcome, at least on the surface, from the crowd of business executives, financiers and foreign dignitaries gathered here for the annual economic forum, the president was to land in Washington as Democrats prepared to make their formal case against him on the floor of the Senate.

For most of his less than 36 hours here, Trump appeared inclined to keep the topic of impeachment at arm's length, counterprograming the first day of the trial with the image of a president hard at work on the international stage. It will most likely be one of the last times he’ll be able to do so for the next few weeks as the impeachment trial plays out on live television throughout the day and into the evening, consuming news coverage.

But impeachment wasn’t far from the president's mind. He wrapped up his meetings Tuesday in time to watch some of the events play out on television from his hotel, and was given “minute-by-minute updates” from staff throughout the day, a White House official said.

On Wednesday, shortly before he left, he seemed eager to dive back into the fight where his lawyers, not he, currently have center stage: He'd love to attend his own impeachment, he said, but he didn't think his legal team would allow it.

“I’d love to go, wouldn’t that be great," Trump told reporters. "I’d love to sit in the front row and stare in their corrupt faces."

As the president jetted back to Washington for the final phase of the impeachment fight, he had the chance for hours of uninterrupted viewing from Air Force One as the Senate kicked off a day of oral arguments.

Trump was mostly pleased with what he saw Tuesday, said White House aides. While the formal legal arguments lacked the combative flair Trump himself usually brings, that has been part of the Republicans' strategy of keeping the proceedings dull and not drawing extra attention to them.

“They're doing a very good job,” Trump told NBC News as he headed to a breakfast with CEOs in Davos. “We have a great case.”

But the White House was dealt a setback Tuesday in its effort to get the trial wrapped up as quickly and quietly as possible, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to get enough votes to pass trial rules he’d developed in close collaboration with the White House — a process intended to deliver Trump a speedy, low-key acquittal.

Instead, fellow Republicans pushed back at the last minute, with McConnell having to hand-write several Democrat-requested changes to the rules before passage.

Now Trump’s legal team will likely have to start the first day of its defense on Saturday, when television audiences typically drop off, though it will give them retorts for the widely watched Sunday morning news shows.

While in Davos, Trump tried to keep the attention focused on the economy, giving television interviews with the business networks CNBC and Fox Business. Before departing Wednesday, he held an impromptu press conference where he turned his attention back to the impeachment proceedings that awaited him at home.

Unlike past instances in which Trump has undercut his own defense — such as when he said in an NBC News interview that the Russia investigations played a role in his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey — Trump has mostly repeated his standard talking points on the subject, seeking to project an air of confidence.

Back in Washington, Trump will have two full days to huddle with his legal team. His lawyers have the difficult task ahead of trying to balance the multiple audiences they are trying to reach: the public, Senate jurors and the president himself.

The legal team has been preparing for the possibility of witnesses being called, but Trump said Wednesday he would leave that decision up to the Senate.

He told reporters Wednesday he would like to see former national security adviser John Bolton testify along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but suggested he’d consider blocking their testimony if they were called in the Senate trial, arguing it could be a national security risk if they shared private conversations they’d had with him — despite the likelihood that the testimony would be delivered behind closed doors.

Even though Trump will have to hand over the reins to his lawyers to make his case, he has scheduled a number of public events where he's likely to keep making his own case.

He's scheduled to speak at a Republican gathering on Thursday, and to hold two campaign rallies next week — one in New Jersey and another in Iowa days before that state’s Democratic caucuses on Feb. 3.

And there is always his Twitter account. In the Wednesday morning hours in Davos, Trump sent more than 40 tweets and retweets in about an hour. Most were about his impeachment, as the president faced the new reality of his bystander role in the current drama.

"It's a total hoax. It's a disgrace," Trump said of impeachment Wednesday, shortly before heading back to Washington, where lawmakers were set to resume trial proceedings in just a few hours. "So I'm going to head back, and I'll be watching it — but it's really going to be up to the Senate."