When Republican senators voted to acquit President Donald Trump in a nearly party-line vote last week, several said they believed he had learned his lesson from the impeachment process itself.
“We’ve put our statements out there and he’s been through an impeachment,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. Portman has said for months that Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine was inappropriate. “It’s all of our responsibility to figure out what we think is the right way to do it. For me, it was speaking out.”
“He was impeached, and there has been criticism by both Republican and Democratic senators of his call,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said in an interview with CBS News. “I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future.”
“I think he’s learned that he has to be maybe a little more judicious and careful, the way he’s phrasing certain things,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia as she voiced her displeasure.
Capito added the following caveat, though it didn’t stop her from voting to acquit Trump: “Although he may not, because you know, as we’ve said, as was said, he is who he is.”
“When we stand back and we don’t challenge the executive, we get what we get, which is a weakened legislative branch and an empowered executive,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who nonetheless voted to acquit Trump as well.
“If a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think he would think twice before he did it again,” Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said, referring to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which was at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
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‘He doesn’t give a f—‘
In the days since his acquittal, the president has shown no signs of having learned from his impeachment, as Republican senators said. If anything, he’s grown more vindictive.
As one senior administration told The Daily Beast, “I think he feels like the chains are off now. It’s like things have taken a turn. The gloves are off. And everything that used to be hush-hush is now just … out in the open.”
The president admitted on Wednesday that he hadn’t learned the lesson Republican senators hoped he had.
“Some Republicans have said they hoped you would learn a lesson from impeachment,” one reporter asked Trump. “What lesson did you learn from impeachment?”
“That the democrats are crooked,” Trump replied. “That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment and my poll numbers are 10 points higher.”
The president’s actions show the “foolishness” and “naivety” of Republican lawmakers who publicly expressed hope that he would change or grow from his impeachment, said Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School and an expert on criminal and constitutional law.
“I don’t think it is too strong to say that senators like Collins and Alexander are indirectly responsible for this mess,” Ohlin told Insider. “They had the chance to hold Trump responsible and refused to — and then had the temerity to claim afterwards that the administration would start behaving again. If anything, things have only gotten worse.”
One Republican strategist in frequent contact with the White House said Trump believes his acquittal has confirmed he has the right to “get rid” of those he believes were disloyal to him.
“He doesn’t give a f—,” this person, who requested anonymity because they were describing internal discussions on the matter, told Insider. “Why should he? He’s the commander in chief, and the party did the right thing standing by him.”
Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ, told Insider that Trump’s latest actions show Republican senators “were grasping for straws to justify their decision that the case against Trump was proven but they didn’t vote to convict him.”
“Trump has shown them how foolish, naive, or hypocritical they were,” he said. “Hardly a profile in courage.”
“At least Barr is being up front about his intent to help the President and his co-conspirators,” Cramer added. “Unclear why any adult would think this President has the capacity to learn. The guy is operating a well orchestrated crime spree while making himself money and lowering his golf score at the same time.”
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Trump’s revenge is far from over
Here’s are some of the most significant events that have happened since Trump was acquitted:
- Last Friday, Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the European Union, both of whom testified against him in the House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings.
- Trump also fired Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, who served alongside him as an ethics lawyer on the NSC but had no involvement in impeachment inquiry.
- On Monday, Attorney General William Barr acknowledged that he had set up an “intake process” for the Justice Department to vet material that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, collected from Ukrainian sources about former Vice President Joe Biden.
- On Tuesday, Barr and his top aides publicly overruled the career prosecutors working on the government’s case against the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone and called for a lesser sentence than the one prosecutors had recommended. Barr’s intervention led to the withdrawal or resignations of all four prosecutors working on Stone’s case.
NBC News reported that senior Justice Department officials also intervened last month to lower the US government’s sentencing recommendation for Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI as part of the Russia investigation.
According to NBC News, the revised filing in Flynn’s case came on the same day that Jessie Liu, the former US attorney in Washington, DC, who oversaw the DOJ’s criminal investigation into former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, was removed from her job and replaced with Barr’s pick.
The president’s vengeance against his perceived enemies is far from over.
Earlier this week, Trump suggested the US military should discipline Alexander Vindman for his actions, despite the fact that Vindman testified after receiving a lawful congressional subpoena (the military later confirmed that it would not be taking disciplinary action against Vindman).
And White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said more firings are likely coming down the pike.
Experts on fascism, meanwhile, warn that the failure of congressional Republicans to hold Trump accountable is enabling him to act on his worst instincts.
John Stanley, a Yale philosophy professor who wrote “How Fascism Works,” told Insider’s John Haltiwanger that Trump and Republicans’ recent actions are “straight from the literature on authoritarianism.”
“There need to be mass protests,” he added. “The Republican Party is betraying democracy, and these are historical times. Someone has got to push back.”