By Toluse Olorunnipa and closeToluse OlorunnipaWhite House reporterEmailEmailBioBioFollowFollowMike DeBonis closeMike DeBonisCongressional reporter covering the House of RepresentativesEmailEmailBioBioFollowFollowFeb. 7, 2020 at 1:46 a.m. GMT+1 – For: THE WASHINGTON POST
President Trump set off a new phase of political warfare Thursday, taking to the East Room of the White House to lambaste his opponents and praise his defenders during a bizarre and caustic performance celebrating his Senate acquittal that followed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s declaration that he was “impeached forever.”
Veering between vitriolic and triumphant in a meandering speech that stretched past an hour, Trump sounded off against “vicious and mean” Democrats and “dirty cops” at the FBI, and he individually acknowledged Republican lawmakers he described as “great warriors” for his cause.
“This is a day of celebration because we went through hell,” Trump told the crowd of supporters, describing his impeachment as “all bullshit” and attacking several of his opponents in highly personal terms. He reminded Republicans that their fortunes were inextricably linked to his own — and to his personal views of them.ADAD
About an hour before Trump spoke, Pelosi (D-Calif.) chided him for his behavior and defended her decision to tear up a copy of his State of the Union address by asserting that “he’s shredding the Constitution.”
The fiery words from Trump and Pelosi showed that the partisan bitterness that defined the nearly five-month-long impeachment process was worsening and could lead to a nasty nine months ahead of the November elections. As the president made clear he had little interest in putting impeachment behind him, Pelosi was indignant, telling reporters that Trump had dishonored the “dignity of the White House” and launching into an extended criticism of his presidency.
During a day that began with the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump questioned the religious sincerity of Pelosi and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted Wednesday to convict the president on a charge of abuse of power. Pelosi, a Catholic, responded by saying Trump was ignorant about religion.ADAD
“He’s talking about things that he knows little about, faith and prayer,” she said.
Despite the negativity, both Trump and Pelosi used their remarks to make brief nods to the idea of working on bipartisan issues like infrastructure and health care. But such olive branches were dwarfed by a forest of vindictiveness, and continued political battle appeared to be the more likely path forward.
“These people are vicious,” Trump said during his East Room remarks, where supporters regaled him with laughter and applause. “Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person.”
The spectacle stood in stark contrast to the speech given by President Bill Clinton after his acquittal on impeachment charges in 1999. Clinton expressed contrition in his Rose Garden remarks, saying he was “profoundly sorry” and regretful for acts that led to his impeachment.ADAD
Trump, on the other hand, declared himself completely innocent, and set out to settle scores.
“We went through hell, unfairly,” he said, after holding up a front-page Washington Post story about his acquittal. “Did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong.”
He attacked former FBI director James B. Comey, former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok — describing the former top law enforcement officials as “top scum.”
Aitan Goelman, a lawyer for Strzok, called Trump’s attacks “unhinged.”
While none of those figures were involved in the impeachment process over Trump’s Ukraine dealings, the president sought to paint his trial as the culmination of a years-long effort by government bureaucrats to delegitimize his presidency — a conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.ADAD
Pelosi also spent part of Thursday looking backward, lacing into Trump for a State of the Union address Tuesday that she said offered “a state of mind that had no contact with reality whatsoever.” She handed reporters a list of economic statistics aimed at refuting Trump’s claims that the economy he inherited from President Barack Obama had been in decline.
“It’s appalling the things that he says. And then you say to me: ‘Tearing up his falsehoods, isn’t that the wrong message?’ No, it isn’t,” she said, adding: “I feel very liberated. I feel that I’ve extended every possible courtesy. I’ve shown every level of respect.”
Trump’s address in the East Room amounted to a planting of the flag at the end of an impeachment process that has consumed his presidency and served as a test of loyalty for Republicans.ADAD
Trump praised the lawmakers who showed the most fealty in his acquittal on the two charges while launching into deeply personal criticism of Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and the sole GOP lawmaker to vote guilty on the abuse of power article of impeachment.
Trump accused Romney, who cited his own deep Mormon faith in deciding to convict Trump, of using “religion as a crutch.”
“Never heard him use it before,” Trump said. “But today, you know, it’s one of those things. But it’s a failed presidential candidate, so things can happen when you fail so badly, running for president.”
He then heaped praise on the other senator from Utah, Mike Lee (R), calling him “incredible” during a session in which he extended individual accolades to dozens of GOP allies, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.ADAD
McConnell ensured that the three-week trial had no witnesses or new evidence, leading to a swift acquittal for Trump.
Republican lawmakers in attendance clapped throughout Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, signaling to the president that he was in need of no absolution for the conduct that got him impeached.
Trump was accused of abusing his power by withholding congressionally approved military aid from Ukraine while pushing the Eastern European country to launch investigations targeting Democrats, and of obstructing Congress by blocking the investigation into his conduct.
Near the end of the event at the White House, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) stood up and told Trump that his support remained rock-solid.AD
“This reflection today is a small reflection of the kind of support you have all across the country,” he said. “We’ve got your back.”AD
Trump in turn stressed that GOP election-year prospects of holding the Senate majority and claiming the House are closely tied to him while he reminisced about his endorsements of several Republican candidates, crediting himself with propelling them to victory in previous races.
“I endorsed him. His numbers went through the roof,” Trump said of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Trump did not mention the candidates he endorsed who lost, including in reliably Republican places such as Alabama, Louisiana and Kentucky.
The president instead focused on the unified support he has been able to amass within the Republican Party, loyalty he has secured in part through a willingness to launch direct and relentless attacks on Republicans who challenge him.AD
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” the president said during the National Prayer Breakfast, an implicit reference to Romney.AD
The White House sent around anti-Romney talking points Thursday, attacking the senator as a self-serving politician with no core principles.
Pelosi defended Romney, praising him for “courage” and describing Trump’s attacks on him as “without class.”
In one sign that the partisan standoff was likely to continue after the impeachment process ended, both sides drove home opposing messages about what they took away from the third presidential impeachment in American history.
“He’s impeached forever, no matter what he says,” Pelosi said. “You’re never getting rid of that scar.”
She also did not rule out continuing House investigations into Trump’s Ukraine dealings.
Trump, who walked into the East Room to the musical strains of “Hail to the Chief,” said that while he was bothered by having the “very dark word” of impeachment attached to his name, he was focusing on different terminology.
“But now we have that gorgeous word — I never thought a word would sound so good,” he said. “It’s called ‘total acquittal.’ Total acquittal.”
Ashley Parker, Felicia Sonmez, Colby Itkowitz, John Wagner and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.
Impeachment: What you need to read
Updated February 5, 2020
Here’s what you need to know to understand the impeachment trial of President Trump.
What’s happening now: The Senate has voted to acquit Trump on both articles of impeachment. Follow live coverage here.
What happens next: The president will remain in office and the impeachment trial is over.
How we got here: A whistleblower complaint led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to announce the beginning of an official impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24. Closed-door hearings and subpoenaed documents related to the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky followed. After two weeks of public hearings in November, the House Intelligence Committee wrote a report that was sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which held its own hearings. Pelosi and House Democrats announced the articles of impeachment against Trump on Dec. 10. The Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. When the full House of Representatives adopted both articles of impeachment against him on Dec. 18, Trump became the third U.S. president to be impeached.
Stay informed: Read the latest reporting and analysis on impeachment here.
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