Exulting in his impeachment acquittal, President Donald Trump took a scorched-earth victory lap Thursday, unleashing his fury against the "leakers and liars" who tried to remove him from office while looking ahead to his reelection campaign.
Trump, speaking to a room full of supporters at the White House, declared the impeachment proceedings a “disgrace” and complained anew that it was “a very unfair situation," echoing his broadsides hours earlier that stunned the crowd at an annual prayer breakfast.
“It was evil, it was corrupt," Trump declared at the White House. “This should never ever happen to another president, ever.”
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“We went through hell, unfairly. We did nothing wrong," he continued.
Trump vented about his grievances against the impeachment process and ticked off names of the “vicious and mean" people he felt had wronged him: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and former FBI Director James Comey. But then he reveled in the verdict delivered by the GOP-controlled Senate the day before.
“Now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought it would sound so good," Trump said. "It's called 'total acquittal."'
As Trump spoke, nearly every inch of the White House East Room was packed with supporters. Among them: Republican senators who cast some of the votes to acquit him, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. Chuck Grassley, several Cabinet members, including Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and staunch House allies including Reps. Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Going one by one, Trump spent nearly a half hour in rambling remarks saluting GOP lawmakers who backed him both in the Capitol and on television.
He declared that the Republican Party has never been more unified and that the momentum from the acquittal would carry him to reelection this November. But he also predicted that he may have to fend off another impeachment challenge, perhaps for something as trivial as jaywalking.
“We’ll probably have to do it again because these people have gone stone-cold crazy," the president said.
Earlier, speaking from a stage where he was joined by congressional leaders, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the impeachment charge against him, Trump shattered the usual veneer of bipartisanship at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people," Trump said at the annual event. His airing of grievances came hours before he was to deliver a full response to the impeachment vote at the White House surrounded by supporters.
“They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing very badly hurt our nation,” said Trump, who triumphantly held up copies of two newspapers with huge "ACQUITTED!" headlines as he took the stage.
His remarks were especially jarring and whiplash-inducing coming after a series of scripture-quoting speeches, including a keynote address by Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor and president of a conservative think tank, who had bemoaned a “crisis of contempt and polarization” in the nation and urged those gathered to ”love your enemies."
“I don't know if I agree with you,” Trump said, and then he proceeded to demonstrate it.
“I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong," he said in an apparent reference to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a longtime Trump critic who was the only Republican to vote for Trump's removal.
“Nor do I like people who say 'I pray for you' when you know that is not so,'” he said, in a reference to Pelosi.
The House speaker shook her head at various points during Trump's remarks, but did not appear to interact with Trump personally. Earlier she had offered a prayer for the poor and the persecuted.
At the White House later, Trump defended his prayer breakfast attacks on Pelosi, saying “I had Nancy Pelosi sitting four seats away and I'm saying things a lot of people wouldn't have said. I meant every word.”
Pelosi said later that Trump's remarks were “so completely inappropriate, especially at a prayer breakfast," and reiterated that she does pray for him."
"I pray hard for him because he's so off the track of our constitution, our values, our country, the air our children breathe and the water they drink, and the rest," she said. "He really needs our payers."
She also took issue with Trump's swipe at Romney's faith, saying "the president is talking about things he knows little about — faith and prayer."
His comments were a clear sign that the post-impeachment Trump is emboldened like never before as he barrels ahead in his reelection fight with a united Republican Party behind him. And it stood in stark contrast to the apology offered by Bill Clinton in the aftermath of his own impeachment acquittal in 1999.
Clinton said then in a White House address: “I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people."
Trump had avoided talk of impeachment in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, holding his tongue until the Senate had cast its official acquittal vote.
By the next day, he was already moving to use impeachment as a 2020 rallying cry. The president and his allies have been on a victory lap since Wednesday, sending giddy tweets needling his accusers and Democrats and celebrating.
Indeed, the night of the impeachment vote was one of revelry for members of the president’s circle. In Washington, many, including Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, and the president’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, gathered at the president’s hotel a few blocks from the White House, one of the few MAGA safe zones in the deeply Democratic city.
The president told confidants during the trial that he was impressed not just by the robust defense offered by his lawyers, but by the TV interviews offered by GOP senators outside the chamber, according to three White House aides and Republicans close to the West Wing were not authorized to discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
He crowed to advisers about the loyalty being shown to him and predicted the show of force bodes well for party enthusiasm in November’s election, the people said.
“I have never seen the Republican Party as Strong and as Unified as it is right now. Thank you!" Trump tweeted during the trial.
Trump has benefited from a new class of Republicans in Congress who have proved to be more partisan than their predecessors. Party members also know that Trump rains retribution on those who cross him. For all of Trump’s talk about how Democrats stick together, he’s got the Republicans in his fist.
“We've never had a president, as I said, who's as vindictive and nasty as this one and he strikes fear in the hearts of a lot of people,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week.
Trump’s sky-high approval ratings within his own party acted as a deterrent that kept nearly all Republicans from breaking ranks. The fear was palpable among GOP senators worried not just about being the target of an angry tweet but about a Trump-backed primary challenger or a revolt among strong Republican supporters.
Still personally stung by impeachment, Trump is betting that he can sell his acquittal to the American people as a vindication, that he can activate his supporters and mollify even his skeptics in the center. Democrats are left with the more challenging task of explaining the details of the Ukraine case to the American people, and the White House believes Trump's less complicated message will prevail.