Trump was angry, raw, vindictive, aggrieved — reflecting the id of a president who has seethed for months with rage against his enemies. This was the State of Trump.
“We had the witch hunt that started from the day we came down the elevator — myself and our future first lady,” Trump said, referring to his campaign announcement at Trump Tower in 2015, during which he and Melania Trump rode down a gold escalator. “And it never really stopped. We’ve been going through this now for over three years. It was evil. It was corrupt. It was dirty cops. It was leakers and liars.”
In sharp contrast with President Bill Clinton — who used a four-minute statement in the Rose Garden in 1999 to apologize and call for “reconciliation” after he was acquitted on impeachment charges — Trump offered no words of regret, insisting, as he has repeatedly, that he did nothing wrong in asking Ukraine’s president to investigate a Democratic rival. The only apology he offered was to his own family, for the “phony, rotten” ordeal that they were put through “by some very evil and very sick people.”
Instead, Trump vented against his rivals and critics — ticking through a greatest hits of grievances that have animated him for the duration of his presidency. With equal portions of gloating and political payback, he spoke within the warm cocoon of an audience stocked with his most vociferous defenders — a who’s-who gallery of powerful GOP lawmakers, Cabinet members, television pundits, White House advisers and campaign operatives who went to war to ensure the president would not be driven from office.
“You could be George Washington, you could have just won the war, and they’d say, ‘Let’s get him out of office,’ ” Trump said of his Democratic rivals. “They’re vicious as hell.”
The Democrats “took nothing,” the president said. “They took a phone call that was a totally appropriate call — I call it a perfect call, because it was — and they brought me to the final stages of impeachment. But now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought a word would sound so good. It’s called, ‘total acquittal.’ ”
At one point, he held up a copy of Thursday’s Washington Post with the headline, “Trump acquitted,” and said he might have it framed.
If Trump was seeking a safe space that would validate his hurt and anger — two days after facing off against his Democratic rivals in the House chamber during his national address — he was rewarded with a kiss from the first lady and a hug from his eldest daughter, Ivanka, a senior White House adviser.
“I want to just say that this reflection today, it’s a small reflection of the kind of support you have all across the country,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a top Trump ally who has been rumored as potentially joining the White House staff, told the president during the event. “We’ve got your back.”
Trump has never had difficulty airing his opinions, political attacks and commentary on the news, often in real time through his rapid-fire Twitter feed. But by his standards, he had been a touch less voluble in recent weeks, perhaps mindful of the unfolding Senate trial. He has refrained from his once-frequent impromptu news conferences on the South Lawn where he entertains shouted questions from reporters over the din of Marine One idling nearby.
His eagerness to vent was clear Thursday. The White House opened the East Room event to the press corps, and scores of reporters crammed into tight spaces behind the seats for the guests. About an hour before the president was due to start speaking, aides scrambled to rearrange the lectern placement to allow Trump to enter from Cross Hall — producing a dramatic television shot that has traditionally lent gravitas and a presidential air to official statements. (President Barack Obama used that angle to announce the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.)
Yet any notion that Trump would use the grand setting to modulate his message and seek to soothe the nation’s fierce partisanship that he has spent years fomenting was erased almost instantly.
“It’s all bullshit,” the president said of the 17-month special-counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and his campaign’s contacts with Russian operatives.
“I doubt she prays at all,” he said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had said during the impeachment proceedings that she prayed for Trump’s soul. He called Pelosi a “horrible person” and one-upped that by referring to Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who is head of the House Intelligence Committee and led the Democrats’ impeachment argument, as a “vicious, horrible person.”
Trump told Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to apologize to his home state for his fellow senator from Utah, Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 standard-bearer who was the only Republican to join 47 Democrats in voting for at least one of the president’s impeachment articles Wednesday.
“The only one that voted against was a guy that can’t stand the fact that he ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of the presidency,” Trump said.
Trump spent considerable time touting his accomplishments and thanking individual lawmakers by name, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Though he held a handful of notecards, Trump appeared to have no prepared text and spent time riffing about each guest, including a lengthy play-by-play of the day Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot during a practice for the congressional charity baseball game in 2017.
“I think you set a record for blood loss,” Trump quipped to Scalise, who was seated in the front row. “Honestly, I think you’re better-looking now. . . . I don’t know how the hell that is.”
Toward the end of his remarks, the president took a page from his campaign-rally handbook and began reading the personal texts between former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who he has repeatedly accused of trying to undermine him during the Russia investigation.
Calling them the “FBI lovers,” Trump mocked their messages that were critical of him and railed against them as “two lowlifes.” He assailed former FBI director James B. Comey as a “sleazebag.”
“These are the crookedest, most dishonest, dirtiest people I’ve ever seen,” Trump said.
A few minutes later — 62 minutes and more than 9,700 words after he began — the president finished speaking. He ignored reporters shouting questions and took a moment to bask in a standing ovation from the audience. Then he and the first lady turned to walk back along Cross Hall and disappeared into the Blue Room.