Just one day after the Senate failed to convict him, the president made fools of allies and defenders Thursday during the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Before Donald Trump took the stage, host Arthur Brooks asked attendees to love their enemies and forgive them their trespasses. Trump said thanks but—yeah, seriously—no thanks.
“I don’t know if I agree with you,” the president said to the host. “I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say.” Trump proceeded to lob volleys of venom at congressional Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mitt Romney (the only Republican senator to vote to convict on the first article of impeachment).
As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president has been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,”
The president is weaponizing the government against enemies, real and perceived.
“We’ve been going through this now for over three years,” Trump said during a victory speech in the East Room of the White House. “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.” James Comey is “a sleazebag,” he said. Romney is “corrupt.” Pelosi is “a horrible person.” Two high-profile FBI agents are “top scum.”
In short, he said later in the East Room, “It was all bullshit.”
The president showed no remorse. He showed no contrition. He showed no humility. This was not the international leader who had “learned his lesson,” as Susan Collins assured us before acquitting him. This is not the follower of Jesus dedicated to turning the other cheek, as Brooks implored. If anything, Trump seemed bent on vengeance.
Within hours, we knew for sure.
The Trump administration said Customs and Border Protection would bar residents of New York state from enrolling and re-enrolling in the government’s Trusted Traveler Program, which expedites preapproved passage through airport security. The reason, the administration said, was national security. A state law grants driver’s licenses to non-citizens and forbids immigration agents from accessing state motor vehicle information without a court order. A Times editorial said Thursday this was an act of revenge by the president against sanctuary cities like New York. That seems correct.
The White House is, moreover, preparing payback against administration officials who cooperated with the House impeachment investigators. The first on the enemies list, according to the Post, is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. He’s the national security official who in House testimony confirmed the whistleblower complaint alleging the president extorted Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky into a conspiracy to defraud the American people. Making this so very petty is that Vindman had already planned to leave later this month. Per the Post: “Trump is eager to make a symbol of the Army officer.”
But revenge, it turns out, was underway before Trump’s acquittal.
The US Treasury Department has refused to cooperate with the House Democrats seeking the president’s tax returns and other financial records. The Democrats’ subpoena for the documents has been mired in federal court for months. But! The Treasury Department quickly cooperated with the Senate Republicans in an expanding inquiry into Hunter Biden financial dealings with a Ukrainian natural gas company.
According to two separate reports, one by Yahoo News and one by Buzzfeed, Senate Republicans have “some of the most sensitive and closely held documents in all of federal law enforcement—highly confidential suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by financial institutions with FinCEN, an agency of the Treasury that helps to police money laundering,” wrote Luppe B. Luppen for Yahoo News. Treasury began turning over documents two months after top Republicans asked for them in November.
Hunter Biden, you’ll recall, is the son of Joe, who, as vice president, led a global effort to pressure Ukraine into cleaning up corruption. That effort especially targeted its prosecutors-general who had been in Vladimir Putin’s pocket. They ignored real crimes by the guilty while prosecuting fake crimes against the innocent. These same prosecutors appear to have been paid to tell Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, that Biden had them fired not because they were too soft on corruption, which they were, but because they were too hard, particularly on the firm Hunter worked for.
The investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden’s dealing in Ukraine was, of course, at the heart of the articles of impeachment against the president. The first indictment alleged Trump abused the power of his office for personal political gain. He compelled by way of bribery the Ukrainians into interfering with the 2020 presidential election. The White House then blocked all efforts by the House Democrats to investigate.
The president is using the administrative power of the federal government to not only shield himself. He’s weaponizing it against his enemies, real and perceived. While he once needed Giuliani and his henchmen to do his dirty work in Ukraine, he now has the GOP Senate not only acquitting him of the charge of abuse of power but enabling him to continue committing the very same crime against the US Constitution.
The most frustrating thing for me during the 2016 campaign was clearly seeing who he was and that he would trash the Republic for his personal vindictiveness while so many others didn't or dismissed the danger he represented. Now that he's occupying the White House, we're all going to deal with the massive fallout that could undermine the very existence of the country.
I'm usually able to summon some optimism or at least achieve a degree of comfort with a zone of uncertainty. But this week I'm all tapped out. I'm having a lot of trouble seeing how we escape this catastrophe, which is only partly -- and not even mainly! -- about Trump. It's about the GOP and their utter contempt for democracy. When one of the two major parties defects this dramatically, even proudly, from liberal democracy, it's extraordinarily difficult to save the system.