But Trump has sought retribution rather than reconciliation, culminating in a “Friday night massacre” of the witnesses who testified against him. Trump is a sore winner. If he has a smidgen of charity or magnanimity, he keeps it firmly hidden — perhaps in the same top-secret system where a whistleblower says transcripts of his most damning conversations with foreign leaders are stored.
Trump’s campaign of revenge kicked off at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, where Trump rejected the advice of Post columnist Arthur Brooks — echoing the Sermon on the Mount — to love your enemies. “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said, and then proceeded to question the religious faith of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). That was just a warmup for his deranged performance in the White House East Room: He denounced the impeachment process as “evil” and “corrupt” and called Pelosi and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) “vicious” and “horrible” people.
Trump proceeded on Friday to fire Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council staffer who had testified about Trump’s attempts to blackmail Ukraine into helping his reelection campaign. The Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient was escorted off the White House grounds along with his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, whose only sin is to be related to one of the “human scum” Never Trumpers, as Trump labeled the witnesses against him. Trump also fired his own inaugural committee donor, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who had testified that there was a quid pro quo linking U.S. military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of a company that employed former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter and that “everyone was in the loop.”
In case there was any doubt what the president was up to, Donald Trump Jr. explained on Twitter: “Allow me a moment to thank… Adam Schiff. Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonald Trump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam!” The president himself himself tweeted Saturday that he fired “Lt. Col.” Vindman — note the scare quotes — for being “very insubordinate” by complying with a House subpoena to testify. Thanks, Trumps, for confessing to an apparent violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1513, the federal law protecting witnesses from retaliation — not that the president will ever be prosecuted.
There was, predictably, no public pushback to these decisions from within the administration, because Trump is now surrounded by political invertebrates. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acquiesced to Sondland’s firing just as he acquiesced in the far more offensive campaign waged by Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to recall career Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who retired in late January. If national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien made any effort to protect a war hero from a draft-dodger president, there is no indication of it. Republican senators such as Marco Rubio of Florida simply cheered Trump on.
What happened Friday was the political equivalent of one of those mob-movie montages where the don’s enemies are gunned down to the accompaniment of an operatic score. And the Don in the White House isn’t done yet. He reportedly is interested in firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, who brought to Congress a whistleblower’s complaint. The whistleblower required a security detail because he or she has been smeared by the president and his minions. Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) read the name of the person alleged to be the whistleblower by many on the right on the floor of the Senate this week. What possible purpose can this serve save to bring retribution down upon that person?
And of course Trump is still seething about the FBI agents — the “top scum” he called them on Thursday — who had the temerity to investigate his ties with Russia. They are now being probed by a prosecutor handpicked by Attorney General William P. Barr.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), bless her heart, claimed Trump had learned a lesson from impeachment. She later admitted that such talk was “aspirational” — delusional is more like it — because the only lesson Trump has learned is that the Fifth Avenue Republicans will let him get away with anything.
Trump is unchastened, unchained and unhinged. I fear for the future of our democracy with such a vindictive bully wielding the awesome powers of the presidency with less and less restraint. He is making an example of all those who have exposed his misconduct in the past to ensure that he can get away with even greater wrongdoing in the future.