President Donald Trump emerged vindictive and angry at a noontime event on Thursday meant to mark his impeachment acquittal.
“It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops, it was leaks and liars,” Trump told an East Room packed with conservative lawmakers, media pundits, and a number of Cabinet officials.
“This should never happen to another president, ever,” Trump said from his podium, calling the impeachment saga and previous investigations a “witch hunt.”
“We’ve all been through a lot together,” he told his crowd, which also included members of his legal team and the first lady Melania Trump.
The formal White House event is meant to be the final word on the impeachment saga. But few expect the ordeal to fade from view; Trump is stung and angry at being impeached by the House and his allies say it’s unlikely he’ll let it go anytime soon.
He dove into the fray at an early morning prayer breakfast, holding up newspapers blaring enormous “ACQUITTED!” headlines and launching into an attack on the process.
“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,” he said.
He added later: “When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them, it’s not easy folks. I do my best.”
The message wasn’t one of conciliation, apology or regret, which is how the last president to be impeached, Bill Clinton, ended his trial.
Unlike Clinton, Trump will face voters in November. And there are almost no examples from his presidency of admissions he was wrong.
Instead, Trump has shown signs he feels emboldened by the acquittal. After the vote, he tweeted a video meme suggesting he could remain in office for decades to come, a joking affront to his rivals.
Even as some Republican senators acknowledged Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine was wrong, there was little political consequence for Trump since they voted to keep him in office.
The one Republican who voted to convict — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney — has been shunned by Trump’s allies. The President’s son even suggested he be evicted from the Republican Party.
The GOP fealty to the President has Trump’s critics worried about where he’ll go next. With no apparent consequence for behavior they see as corrupt, Trump will enter his reelection campaign unchecked and unbound.
He is expected to scale up his politicking in the coming months, starting Monday in New Hampshire on the eve of that state’s first-in-the-nation primary. Aides say Trump is itching to add more rallies to his calendar, and one official said to expect at least one rally a week for the rest of the year. And though much depends on his other commitments, Trump has told aides he wants to eventually return to the pace he kept during the 2016 campaign.