WASHINGTON – Momentarily escaping the nation’s capital as Democrats enter a new, public phase of the impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump is returning to the campaign trail Thursday to stump in Louisiana for the second time in as many weeks.
A day after a U.S. diplomat told lawmakers his staff overheard the president pressing for a Ukrainian investigation into his rivals – a bombshell revelation the president has denied – Trump was hoping to turn the tide in Louisiana’s razor-thin race for governor. Trump has not scheduled any additional rallies through the remainder of the year.
Trump retooled his campaign message this fall to focus on the impeachment investigation, which he has described as a “hoax.” The Bossier City, Louisiana, rally is the first time he will meet with supporters since public hearings in that inquiry began Wednesday.
Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will testify Friday. Yovanovitch was recalled from Ukraine in May amid criticism in conservative media that she was an Obama holdover. Yovanovitch has, in fact, served presidents of both parties.
Stung by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s loss last week to Democrat Andy Beshear, Trump is putting considerable emphasis on Louisiana. Republican businessman Eddie Rispone is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards in a Nov. 16 runoff election.
Trump rallied in Monroe, Louisiana, on Nov. 7.
In remarks that lasted more than an hour, Trump railed against what he called the “deranged, delusional, destructive, and hyper-partisan impeachment witch hunt” by House Democrats. He warned they are becoming “increasingly totalitarian” by “suppressing dissent, defaming the innocent, eliminating due process, staging show trials and trying to overthrow American democracy to impose their socialist agenda.”
The president also slammed the attorney of an anonymous whistle blower who first brought attention to the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump’s remarks – in which he called attention to a 2017 tweet by attorney Mark Zaid that referenced a “coup” – were echoed by Republicans during Wednesday’s impeachment inquiry hearing.
Trump’s Louisiana rally could be his last of 2019; his long-range schedule, including holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, does not currently include additional political rallies, though he could always add them later.
Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told lawmakers Wednesday was that one of his aides overheard a July 26 phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in which the president inquired about “the investigations” he had been pressing Zelensky to open.
Trump had requested Zelensky investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that had been under investigation, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The president told reporters Wednesday that he did not recall that conversation.
“First time I’ve heard it,” Trump said. “I don’t recall. Not at all. Not even a little bit.”
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian