Trump Basks in Acquittal With ‘Celebration’ and Attacks on Foes

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump apologized to his family on Thursday for having to endure his impeachment, but in a vindictive and gloating “celebration” of his Senate acquittal he offered the nation no remorse for the conduct that led lawmakers to consider his removal from office.

“It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops, it was leakers and liars,” Trump said Thursday in an address from the White House. “This should never happen to another president ever.”

After entering the East Room to a standing ovation as “Hail to the Chief” played, Trump lifted a copy of the Washington Post with a large headline that said “Trump Acquitted,” drawing another round of applause.

Trump said the event wasn’t a news conference but more of a celebration. He spoke without a script for over an hour, called out congressional supporters by name and praised their appearance and efforts to fight impeachment charges against him. He said his family members, who were in the audience, had to “go through” a “rotten deal.”

Seated in the front row were Senator Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with Representatives Steve Scalise and Louie Gohmert.

The president is betting his acquittal will add momentum to his 2020 re-election campaign. Trump continued to maintain he’d done nothing wrong, even though several Republican lawmakers called his actions inappropriate and one, Senator Mitt Romney, voted to remove him from office for abusing the power of the presidency.

Trump called Romney a “failed presidential candidate” who used “religion as a crutch” to justify his impeachment vote.

Trump’s defiance has appeared to energize his Republican base. His approval rating reached a high of 49% in the latest Gallup poll, with 94% of Republicans approving of his job performance.

Still, a poll published Wednesday by Reuters and Ipsos found that 60% of Americans believed Trump should have been either removed from office or censured for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Just 31% said his articles of impeachment should be dismissed.

Thursday’s appearance is the president’s first extensive response to the Senate acquittal. He began his remarks recalling his decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey over the investigation into the president’s dealings with Russia during his 2016 campaign.

“Had I not fired James Comey, who was a disaster by the way, it’s possible I wouldn’t even be standing here right now,” Trump said.

“I’m really not a bad person,” Trump said.

The president read theatrically from a transcript of text messages between former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, saying they plotted to reverse his electoral victory.

Trump at times drew laughter as he praised supporters and highlighted the appearance of several lawmakers. He said Representative Jim Jordan never wears a jacket and is “obviously very proud of his body.” He told Scalise: “You weren’t that good looking. You look good now.” He then recounted how Scalise had been shot in 2017 during Republican lawmakers’ baseball practice.

During the trial, the president confined most of his commentary to Twitter and some campaign events. On Tuesday night, Trump delivered a triumphant State of the Union address in the House chamber, but didn’t mention impeachment.

But the partisan rift that has widened throughout the saga was evident. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spearheaded the impeachment, tore up her printed copy of the Trump’s speech after he finished speaking.

“He shredded the truth in his speech, he is shredding the Constitution in his conduct, so I shredded his State of the Mind address,” Pelosi said Thursday.

Trump has nonetheless has insisted the call at the center of the trial, in which he urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open investigations that would benefit the U.S. president, was “perfect.”

Speaking Thursday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump said: “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.”

After the event, Pelosi said, “I pray hard for him because he is so off the track.”

At the White House event, Trump said, “I doubt she prays at all,” and called Pelosi “a horrible person.”

Trump’s tone stands in contrast with that of former President Bill Clinton, the only other president in the modern era to be impeached.

In a February 12, 1999, speech following his acquittal in the Senate, Clinton expressed “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 on Thursday indicated that the partisan divide is unlikely to abate.

“If they find that I happen to walk across the street and maybe go against the light,” the Democrats will probably try to impeach him again, Trump said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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