WASHINGTON (AP) — Exulting in his impeachment acquittal, a defiant President Donald Trump took a scorched-earth victory lap Thursday, unleashing his fury against those who tried to remove him from office and pointing ahead to his reelection campaign.
Triumphantly waving newspaper front pages that declared him “ACQUITTED," Trump denounced the impeachment proceedings as a “disgrace” and portrayed himself as a victim of political foes he labeled "scum," “sleaze bags” and “crooked" people. Hours earlier, he unleashed broadsides that stunned the crowd at an annual bipartisan prayer breakfast
“It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops," Trump declared in a packed White House East Room, where he was surrounded by several hundred of his most loyal supporters. “This should never ever happen to another president, ever.”
He conceded nothing in regard to charges that he improperly withheld a White House meeting and U.S. military aid in an effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and other political matters.
“We went through hell, unfairly," he insisted. "Did nothing wrong.”
His comments were a clear sign that, post-impeachment, Trump is emboldened like never before as he barrels ahead in his reelection fight with a united Republican Party behind him. And his remarks stood in stark contrast to the apology offered by President Bill Clinton when he faced the American people in the aftermath of his own impeachment acquittal in 1999.
In a brief Rose Garden address, Clinton was somber: “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."
The only contrition Trump offered was to his own family, apologizing "for having them go through a phony, rotten deal.”
Trump had plenty else to say, however. Venting for more than an hour, he 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. And he reveled in the verdict handed down by the GOP-controlled Senate Wednesday, saluting one-by-one in Oscar acceptance speech-fashion the “warrior” GOP lawmakers who had backed him both in the Capitol and on television.
“Now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought it would sound so good," Trump said. "It's called ‘total acquittal.’”
One person unmentioned: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose involvement with Ukraine helped drive Trump's push for investigations that led to his becoming just the third president in U.S, history to be impeached by the House.
Trump's remarks, delivered with the aid of scribbled notes but no teleprompter, served as a dramatic contrast to his State of the Union address earlier this week. Standing before Congress Tuesday night, Trump hewed closely to his script and offered an optimistic message to the country with no mention of impeachment.
This time, his remarks were rambling and replete with profane language, comedic interludes and plenty of tangents and asides. He ribbed Ohio Rep. James Jordan, a college wrestling champion, for rarely wearing a suit jacket, saying, “He's obviously very proud of his body.” And he delivered a dramatic reading of text messages between two of his favorite targets, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page, who played a role in the special counsel's investigation of Russian interference to help Trump in the 2016 election.
“This is really not a press conference. It's not a speech. It's not anything," Trump remarked at one point. “It's a celebration.”
He declared that the Republican Party had never been more unified and predicted 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 Thursday, Trump shattered the usual veneer of bipartisanship at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington by unleashing his fury against those who tried to impeach him, with Pelosi sitting on stage.
“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 remarks were especially jarring 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 as he took the microphone, 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 cited his faith in becoming 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, who has offered that message for the president when the two leaders have sparred publicly.
The House speaker, who shook her head at various points during Trump's remarks, later told reporters they were “so completely inappropriate, especially at a prayer breakfast." She took particular issue with his swipe at Romney's faith and said that, yes, she does pray for the president.
Trump later said he “meant every word.”
The president and his allies have been on a victory lap since Wednesday, gloating publicly and behind closed doors.
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 Jr,, the son's 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 himself remained at the White House but worked the phones, calling confidants.