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Split-screen moment for Trump at NATO amid impeachment probe

World leaders during the NATO Summit in London

World leaders during the NATO Summit in London on Wednesday. Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock / Facundo Arrizabalaga

WATFORD, England — President Donald Trump shattered the professed NATO unity as leaders gathered Wednesday on the 70th anniversary of the landmark alliance, calling one leader “two-faced,” another “nasty” and holding an exclusive gathering for only the organization's top defense spenders.

Trump's sparring with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emanuel Macron exposed the alliance's divisions on military spending and relations with Turkey, as well as the U.S. leader's own unconventional ways on the world stage.

The personal attacks and policy divides served as counterprogramming to events in Washington, where House Democrats resumed their push for impeachment over Trump's call for Ukraine to investigate a political rival. The president abruptly canceled a scheduled news conference that would have played out at the same time as the impeachment hearing in Washington.

A day after Trudeau was overheard appearing to gossip about Trump during a reception at Buckingham Palace, Trump called the Canadian leader “two-faced.” Trump and Trudeau had met earlier on Tuesday.

In an unguarded conversation, Trudeau was heard telling leaders, including Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that “he was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top," an apparent reference to Trump. Trudeau also said, seemingly in reference to his meeting with Trump: “You just watched his team's jaws drop to the floor."

Trump fired back during a Wednesday afternoon meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He suggested that the Canadian's overheard comments were precipitated by Trump's decision to highlight the fact that Canada falls short of the NATO target of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense.

“The truth is that I called him out on the fact that he's not paying 2% and I guess he's not very happy about it,” Trump said.

Seeming to relish the fight, Trump remarked “That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced,” referring to Trudeau.

The spat came after a day dominated by fissures in the Trump-Macron relationship. Before they met on the sidelines of the summit, Trump laced into the French president for what he called “very, very nasty” comments to The Economist about NATO's health.

While NATO leaders emphasized unity, Trump convened his own subgroup of the alliance — limited to only those meeting the military spending target. “We call them affectionately those two percenters,” he said. “So this is a lunch that's on me”.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump sat down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as European leaders, led by Macron, pushed the alliance to get tough on Turkey after its October invasion of Syria and its purchase of Russian surface-to-air missiles.

Trump has resisted some of those efforts to pressure Erdogan — a point of tension exposed Tuesday during feisty exchanges with the French leader. The White House, which confirmed the meeting after Erdogan’s office posted a photo of the leaders on social media, said the pair discussed "the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments" as well as security and economic issues.

Trump was set to confer later Wednesday with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on the sidelines of the NATO leaders’ meeting.

The sessions come as Trump canceled a formal news conference scheduled for the conclusion of the summit and that was to begin after Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), gaveled to order the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing in the impeachment inquiry. Trump said he scrapped the event because he had already held many long exchanges with reporters — gatherings that appeared to be the subject of mockery by his foreign counterparts.

Trump insisted he remains unconcerned about the unfolding inquiry in Washington with Democrats facing a mountainous climb to remove him from office. While Democrats hold the majority in the House, Republicans control the Senate and not one Republican lawmaker in the upper chamber has signaled support for kicking Trump out of office. An impeachment conviction in the Senate requires 67 votes out of 100.

Democrats argue that Trump acted improperly when he pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son's dealings in the eastern European nation. The vice president's son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

During his meeting with Merkel, Trump told reporters he didn't know why his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was speaking with the White House Office of Management and Budget — a revelation that was included in phone records published in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report.

“I really don’t know," he said, and encouraged reporters to ask Giuliani about the calls, but said they are “no big deal.”

The gathering of NATO leaders follows Trump's frequent criticism of alliance members as falling well short in doing their financial part through the first three years of his presidency.

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