‘It was evil’: Trump basks in acquittal as he settles scores and fires his insult cannon

In a formless rant described as a celebration, the president insulted enemies, flattered allies and replayed old grievances

This is really not a news conference, Donald Trump admitted. Its not a speech. Its not anything. Its just, were sort of, err its a celebration because we have something that just worked out.

Whatever it was, it wasnt pretty. For more than an hour at the White House on Thursday, this was Trump at his Trumpiest, swaggering, settling scores, firing his insult cannon and basking in the adulation of the Republican allies who ensured his impeachment trial ended in acquittal.

We went through hell, the US president said under the crystal chandeliers of the East Room. Unfairly. Did nothing wrong. Did nothing wrong. Ive done things wrong in my life, I will admit.

There was a ripple of uneasy laughter in the room. A rare moment of self-awareness? It was fleeting. Not purposely, Trump went on. But Ive done things wrong. But this is what the end result is.

And with a flourish, like a conquering general returned from foreign wars with the head of his enemy, Trump held aloft a copy of the Washington Post emblazoned with the front page headline: Trump acquitted. Cameras flashed and guests cheered and applauded as for a half a minute he turned to make sure everyone got a look.

Finally, he handed the paper to his wife, Melania, and quipped: You can take that home, honey. Maybe well frame it. Laughter in the room. Its the only good headline Ive ever had in the Washington Post.

Indeed, it was something strange to behold, Trump brandishing a newspaper that he has called degenerate, dishonest and fake as the final proof of his vindication. It was also a startling contrast from Richard Nixons attitude to the Post when it helped bring him down over Watergate.

But perhaps the most telling opposition on Thursday was with Bill Clinton in 1999. After his impeachment trial also ended in acquittal, the humbled president made a brief statement in the White House Rose Garden, declaring how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did, adding: This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.

Reconvinced of his own invincibility, the 45th president was making no apologies and offering no reconciliation to anyone. Instead, speaking without a teleprompter, he was a magnified version of man who ran in 2016 preaching the politics of us versus them, channeling the grievances and resentments of the forgotten men and women of America a strange place to be for a billionaire TV celebrity.

It is a story of persecution, victimhood and heroic resilience he will tell again in the 2020 election. We had the witch-hunt, he insisted. It started from the day we came down the elevator [it was an escalator], myself and our future first lady, who is with us right now.

Trump brandishes the Washington Post. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

And it never really stopped. Weve been going through this now for over three years. It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops, it was leakers and liars, and this should never, ever happen to another president, ever. I dont know that other presidents would have been able to take it.

He ran through his enemies list, conflating his attempt to coerce Ukraine with what he termed speaking in a room where Pablo Casals once beguiled audiences with his cello the bullshit Russia investigation and scum at the top of the FBI.

Former FBI director James Comey was a sleaze bag, he said, and ex-agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were going to try and overthrow the government of the United States an unfounded conspiracy theory,

Senator Mitt Romney, who cited his faith in becoming the sole Republican in either chamber to vote against him, used religion as a crutch, Trump said, and cant stand the fact he ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of the presidency.

The president raged on: Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person. Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person and she wanted to impeach a long time ago. When she said, I pray for the president, she doesnt pray. She may pray but she prays for the opposite. But I doubt she prays at all.

Pelosi is a devout Catholic. Her repeated knack of outmaneuvering Trump has brought out his darkest, most vindictive impulses. These are vicious people But they stick together like glue. Thats how they impeached.

Equally important, though often less noted, were the many shout-outs to Republicans. Yes, they are often sycophantic towards Trump but he is also often sycophantic towards them. He is known to call senators and representatives at all hours with greater frequency than many of his predecessors. Some say he is actually quite likable. Along with the fear factor, there is also flattery.

So on Thursday, he gave rewards like a teacher throwing out sweets. Much of the speech consisted of name-checking and thanking Republican politicians boosting their egos on national television and giving them a video clip they can circulate back home. The message: you stood by me, here is your reward; its warm here, but its very cold outside.

Trump basks in the adulation of his supporters, including his legal team and daughter Ivanka. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was praised for his fantastic job in leading the Republican senators through a trial that Democrats say was a sham without documents or witnesses such as the former national security adviser John Bolton. McConnell is a tough guy to read, Trump said. Thats what makes him good.

There were rambling anecdotes about Congressman Jim Jordans wrestling prowess (Never wears a jacket. Whats going on? Hes obviously very proud of his body) and Congressman Steve Scalise, who survived being shot during baseball practice (Honestly, I think youre better looking now. Youre more handsome now. You werent that good looking. You look good now.)

Then there was Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. I was up campaigning for helping her and I thought, She looks good, she looks like good talent. But I did not realise when she opens that mouth, you were killing them, Elise, you were killing them Ill always be your friend.

Trump ended with a message to his family. I want to apologise to my family for having them have to go through a phony, rotten deal by some very evil and sick people, he said. And Ivanka is here, and my sons, and my whole family. And that includes Barron.

There was another standing ovation as he exited with Melania, holding hands and walking into the metaphorical sunset. When Trump first ran for office, there were warnings against normalising him. He has been elected, impeached and acquitted, and now he is running again. None of this is normal.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/06/donald-trump-impeachment-acquittal-sketch

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