President Trump, ahead of the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry, maintained Friday that the all-consuming political storm is actually making him “stronger” by energizing the base—claiming the parade of witnesses to date has not hurt him while turning up his attacks on the whistleblower who triggered the probe.
"The whistleblower is a disgrace to our country," Trump told reporters outside the White House, before leaving for a political event in Georgia. He went on to declare the whistleblower's lawyer, who is Mark Zaid, "should be sued, and maybe for treason."
The comments reflect a White House defiant over the escalating impeachment inquiry, which moves into a public phase next week with two hearings scheduled in the House.
His fiery criticism of the anonymous whistleblower, whose identity Trump said should be revealed, comes despite the whistleblower's legal team sending a cease-and-desist letter to the White House demanding Trump stop the attacks -- and warning about the possibility the whistleblower could be "physically harmed," according to The Hill.
But Trump asserted Friday that the entire investigation is backfiring for Democrats.
“What they’re trying to do is weaken me, but it’s actually made me stronger,” Trump said.
“People are angry about it … and it’s made Republicans and people that vote for me, not just Republicans, really angry ... because it's a hoax,” he said.
The rhetoric shows Trump deploying the same playbook he used during former special counsel Robert S. Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.
The impeachment inquiry was opened in September after a whistleblower complaint about the now-infamous July 25 phone call between the president and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The whistleblower alleged that Trump, during the call, pushed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden—as military aid to the country was being withheld.
The since-released transcript of that call showed Trump urging Zelensky to launch such investigations. But the White House maintains there was no "quid pro quo" tied to military aid, though some witnesses in impeachment proceedings have argued they understood such a quid pro quo was at play.
State Department official George Kent told investigators that his understanding was Trump wanted to hear about the investigations from Zelensky in order to unlock U.S. military aid.
Trump on Friday maintained the testimony to date has not hurt him.
"No one seems to have any first-hand knowledge," he said. "Every one of those people canceled themselves out."
Further, he said he's considering releasing the transcript of a separate April call he had with Zelensky. He said if House investigators want to see a summary of the April 21 call, he's "happy to give it to them."
Trump's comments about the whistleblower lawyer, meanwhile, were likely aimed at attorney Mark Zaid.
The president has been blasting Zaid after a Fox News article highlighted a stream of 2017 tweets in which Zaid predicted a "coup" against Trump and promised to “get rid of him.”
Zaid sent Fox News a formal statement Thursday in which he said the social media posts were written with the belief that Trump would likely be “stepping over the line” at some point during his presidency.
“Those tweets were reflective and repeated the sentiments of millions of people,” Zaid said. “I was referring to a completely lawful process of what President Trump would likely face as a result of stepping over the line, and that particularly whatever would happen would come about as a result of lawyers. The coup comment referred to those working inside the Administration who were already, just a week into office, standing up to him to enforce recognized rules of law.“
The Associated Press contributed to this report.