allies draw up plan to limit damage from impeachment trial

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald and his Republican allies plan to launch a massive effort to limit damage to his chances of re-election as the Senate trial to determine whether to remove him from office gets under way in earnest next week.

After an internal White House debate over whether he should leave the country during the trial, plans for now to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, next week to play up the strength of the U.S. economy, a major theme in his campaign for re-election in November.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has charged with abuse of office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and obstructing Congress in its investigation into his conduct.

has denied wrongdoing and has accused Democrats of a partisan-driven effort to undo his 2016 election victory.

The trial in the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to lead to 's ouster, as no Republican senators have voiced support for doing so. But it provides Democrats an unprecedented opportunity on national television over a period of weeks to make the case to the American people that he is unfit for office and should not be re-elected.

Conscious of this, people around have drawn up plans to present a different narrative of a president presiding over a strong economy who is an innocent victim of efforts by his political opponents to undermine his presidency.

An appearance at Davos could provide some powerful optics of a president intent on doing his job as tumult swirls around him. Some advisers had argued against the trip, feeling 's appearance was unnecessary, one source familiar with internal deliberations said.

"It allows him to be on the world stage making a major speech about the booming economy that he's helped create with his policies, while the Democrats keep pushing this sham impeachment," a White House official said.

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The president was leaving himself some wiggle room on whether he would actually make the trip.

"I will probably be going to Davos," told reporters on Thursday.

Back home, 's friends and allies, the Republican National Committee, his re-election campaign and other pro- organizations will shift into battle mode.

"We'll hold town halls, we'll hold rallies, we'll hold press conferences, we'll infiltrate Democrat events with supporters of the president to create general disruption,” RNC senior official Rick Gorka said.

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Republicans plan to hold a "national day of action" in Arizona, Virginia, Florida and elsewhere on Saturday to train activists on messaging, tactics and ways to get involved to defend the president during the trial.

The re-election campaign, flush with cash and prepared to spend $10 million on a TV ad to run during the Super Bowl in early February, plans to put supporters on television and radio to defend while also using social media to make the argument he is innocent of the charges and should be re-elected.

"We will be using every resource available to the campaign to hold Democrats to account for their purely partisan impeachment," campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine said.

KEEPS EYE ON TRIAL

himself is keeping a close eye on the proceedings and has been asking aides and allies what the voters think.

Showing some level of anxiety, he was quick to respond on Thursday when reporters asked him about the trial, portraying himself as a victim of a Democratic attempt to oust him.

"Our unemployment numbers are the best they've been in over 50 years," he said. "And I've got to go through a hoax, a phony hoax, put out by the Democrats so they can try and win an election that hopefully they're not going to win."

has queried aides on the Democratic strategy, and has been particularly curious as to why U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, held up the articles of impeachment the House voted for along party lines in December.

Pelosi has said she delayed sending the charges to the Senate in order to put pressure on it to agree to hear new witness testimony. That issue remains unresolved as the trial begins.

Two outside allies, former senior White House adviser Steve Bannon and former campaign communications director Jason Miller, are conducting two-a-day broadcasts known as "War Room" on conservative radio to gin up outrage against impeachment among the Republican voter base.

"For all the talk of the Senate trial being this very stoic, very measured, very deliberative effort, there will be just as much media focus and just as much debating outside of the Senate as of any other time during this impeachment process. The audience here is the entire American public if not the entire world," Miller said in an interview.

(Reporting by Steve Holland Editing by Ross Colvin and Paul Simao)

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