WASHINGTON ― Two decades after President Bill Clinton apologized to the nation for the actions that led to his impeachment, President Donald Trump also apologized ― not for his actions, but for the “very evil and sick people” who put his family through “a phony, rotten deal.”
Clinton took one minute and 19 seconds to deliver his prepared statement after his Senate acquittal in 1999 on charges based on his affair with a White House intern. It was 129 words long, and included: “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.” He walked away from the lectern when asked if he felt vindicated.
Trump on the day after his Senate acquittal on charges he tried to cheat in his reelection bid took an hour and three minutes to deliver 9,400 words of rambling attacks against Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California for starting impeachment proceedings against him, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney for voting to convict him, and the prosecutors and FBI agents involved in a previous investigation against him, as well as praise for those who voted to clear him.
“This is really not a news conference. It’s not a speech. It’s not anything. It’s just … a celebration,” Trump said in the chandeliered and gold-curtained East Room, typically the site for joint appearances with foreign leaders and other official events.
“On the madness meter we’ve blown past (President Richard) Nixon’s late-night conversations with portraits,” said John Weaver, a former campaign aide to the late Arizona Sen. John McCain and now the founder of the Republican anti-Trump group, Lincoln Project. “Trump is now both completely unhinged and unfettered, so we’re in a danger zone thanks in large part to the GOP Senate.”
Bandy Lee, a Yale University professor of psychiatry who has warned of Trump’s mental state for years, said Thursday’s performance was yet more proof.
“The speech was a demonstration of pathology from start to finish,” she said. “He, more than anyone, ‘knows’ subconsciously that the acquittal is undeserved …. He will likely act with increasing belief in unlimited power and impunity.”
The Senate on Wednesday voted 52-48 to acquit Trump on the charge of abuse of power for coercing Ukraine into helping his re-election and 53-47 on the charge he obstructed Congress in his efforts to keep it all secret. All Senate Democrats voted to convict Trump on both articles. All Republicans voted to acquit him on the second count, and all but Romney on the first.
For his statement “to discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!” as he had previewed it on Wednesday shortly after the Senate finished voting, Trump had the East Room arranged with some 220 chairs set around a podium. He invited his Cabinet members, staff, Republicans in Congress as well as outside supporters, including Laura Ingraham of Fox News and Kay Cole James of the Heritage Foundation. They gave Trump an extended standing ovation, cheering and whooping as he entered.
The speech was a demonstration of pathology from start to finish. Yale University psychiatry professor Bandy Lee
While Trump repeated some of his usual boasts ― including the baseless claim that the stock market “would have crashed” had Democrat Hillary Clinton won the presidency in 2016 ― the bulk of his off-the-cuff remarks were about the just concluded impeachment, which he claimed really began with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into his campaign’s links to Russia.
“We were treated unbelievably unfairly. And you have to understand we first went through Russia, Russia, Russia. It was all bullshit,” Trump said. “Had I not fired James Comey, who was a disaster, by the way, it’s possible I wouldn’t even be standing here right now.”
Comey was the FBI director whom Trump asked for “loyalty.” Trump fired him, and then the following day told the Russian ambassador during an Oval Office visit that doing so would relieve the pressure of the Russia investigation that was then in the hands of the FBI. Mueller was appointed to take over the probe shortly thereafter.
Mueller’s report in April 2019 found that while Trump had been eager for Russia’s help and had used it heading into the election, the special counsel’s team could not prove a criminal conspiracy. The report did find numerous instances that Trump had tried to obstruct justice by blocking the investigation, but Congress did not pursue impeachment.
At about that same time, Trump, through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had started an effort to pressure Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s newly elected president, to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, whom Trump at the time believed would be his most dangerous Democratic opponent in 2020. Trump also wanted Zelensky to probe a discredited conspiracy theory suggesting that Russia had not tried to help the Trump 2016 campaign and that instead Ukrainian officials had framed Russia in an attempt to help Clinton.
Testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, corroborated by a rough transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky released by Trump himself, showed that the U.S. president used as leverage both $391 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to help it fight Russian aggression, as well as the lure of a White House meeting.
Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky nevertheless acquitted Trump. Some GOP senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, argued that the impeachment ordeal would make Trump think twice before doing something similar again.
Trump’s own words Thursday suggest that hope is misplaced.
“We went through hell, unfairly,” he said. “I did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong.”
Trump’s White House remarks followed a visit earlier to the National Prayer Breakfast, where he impugned both Romney’s and Pelosi’s religious conviction ― with his campaign later posting a clip of those insults on Twitter.
“Narcissistic sociopaths do not change, do not learn lessons,” said Norman Ornstein with the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “This was just what anybody who has watched Trump at all would expect. It reflects badly on all those in his audience. But especially badly on 52 Republican senators who chose party over country.”