The President's decision to expand his power post-trial has stunned Washington

President Donald Trump said the lesson he learned from his impeachment trial is that "Democrats are crooked" and "vicious."

Posted: Feb 12, 2020 9:03 PM
Updated: Feb 13, 2020 3:15 PM


It's time to stop asking whether President Donald Trump will learn lessons from the controversies he constantly stokes -- of course he does. But far from stepping back or opting for contrition as his critics and appeasers hope, Trump draws darker political conclusions.

The result is that he expands his own power by confounding institutional restraints and opening a zone of presidential impunity -- while at the same time delighting his political base.

Trump's interference in the sentencing of his long-time associate Roger Stone and a post-impeachment retribution splurge reflect a lifetime's lessons of a real estate baron turned public servant.

On Wednesday, Trump publicly praised the Justice Department for reversing its call for a stiff jail term for Stone after his own critical late night tweet that laid bare fears of blatant interference in bedrock US justice.

'I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing. And I didn't speak to them by the way, just so you understand. They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing,' the President told reporters.

He noted that the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case 'hit the road,' raising the prospect that their protests failed to introduce accountability to the administration and only served to further hollow out the government and make it more pliable to the President.

Trump denied that he crossed a line. But his tweet left no doubt about what he wanted to happen. And his strategy, in this case and others, actually worked.

Just as he used US government power to smear Joe Biden in the Ukraine scandal, he succeeded in getting favorable treatment for a friend in the Stone case -- though the final sentence will be up to a judge.

The Stone affair has also added to evidence that Attorney General William Barr is acting more as the President's personal lawyer and less to ensure the neutral administration of justice.

Trump's brazen approach was on also display Wednesday when he was asked what he learned from impeachment -- after several GOP senators said they hoped he would take lessons to be restrained.

'That the Democrats are crooked, they got a lot of crooked things going. That they're vicious, that they shouldn't have brought impeachment,' Trump told reporters.

An unprecedented spectacle

The week since Trump's Senate trial ended has seen an unprecedented spectacle: A President acquitted of impeachable high crimes has recommitted himself to the shattering of guardrails that got him into trouble in the first place.

Trump's actions are informed by a political history that has seen him rewarded every time he has sought to buckle Washington normality with the warm approval of his core voters.

The unchained behavior typically causes Democratic outrage and a push for new investigations, and causes an outburst of media coverage warning that US norms are under attack. Such controversy only confirms for many Trump supporters that he is exactly the kind of disruptive force that they hoped for when they sent him to battle the Washington establishment in 2016.

Trump's belligerence makes for unpleasant moments for the Republican senators who acquitted him last week after a four-month impeachment drama who face awkward questions about the President's behavior from reporters on Capitol Hill.

But when they return home they have earned the approval of the Trump voters they need to stave off primary challenges and retain their seats when they're up for reelection. Underlining that his political strength in the heartland is impervious to Washington angst, the President tweeted out a series of congressional endorsements on Wednesday.

Trump's pattern of behavior relies on an indifference to the health of US political and judicial systems on the part of the President and a willingness to destroy trust in institutions that could take decades to recover from his power plays.

They also send messages to prosecutors across the country that it's permissible to allow political considerations to taint judicial business. And it risks establishing a precedent that future presidents -- Democratic or Republican -- will use to enforce their writ at the Justice Department.

The idea that justice is impartial is central to America's economic and political stability and key to its global reputation. Warnings about the stigma of justice corrupted by strongmen leaders have long been a core US criticism of nations in the developing world. The US government has for instance advocated for American businesses in China that complained about politics weighing on the court system.

The President's decision not to even wait a week after his impeachment trial -- an event that some Republicans said they hoped would teach him a lesson, despite voting for acquittal -- to expand his power has stunned Washington. That's even following three years of Trump-triggered shocks.

'What really unsettles me -- a former prosecutor for almost 30 years -- is when a person makes it through a storm, a criminal justice storm, and they learn nothing from the process,' former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi told CNN's Brooke Baldwin Wednesday.

'I've talked to many people in the Department of Justice who still work there, career people, and they are absolutely upset, unsettled and angry that the head of the department is basically afraid of his shadow and will do anything for the President of the United States,' he said.

Democrats set up Barr showdown

Democrats, having exhausted the ultimate political sanction of impeachment, are still vowing to hold Trump accountable. They plan to bring up the Stone matter during an appearance by Barr in the House Judiciary Committee on March 31.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, warned that Trump was putting himself above the rule of law and sending a message to the public that his friends could escape justice when regular people could not.

'My fear is that Donald Trump is going to succeed in numbing the American public to his transgressions. We cannot let this happen. He has to be held accountable,' Rice, a member of the House Homeland Security committee, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Trump's intervention in the Stone case exposed his GOP supporters to fresh questions about his behavior -- only a week after they escaped the glare of the impeachment trial.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump shouldn't be tweeting about live cases. But he added that the Stone sentencing recommendation was extreme and that the Justice Department had not overstepped its bounds.

Asked by CNN's Manu Raju whether Graham felt emboldened by impeachment, the Republican senator replied: 'I think he feels like the people are out to get him, going overboard.'

Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy described the President's tweet as 'problematic.' But he added that he did not detect nefarious behavior.

'I haven't seen any evidence that Justice changed its position or formulated its position based on the President's tweet. If somebody can show me evidence, more than speculation, I'll began to consider,' Kennedy said.

Maine Sen. Senator Susan Collins said she didn't like 'this chain of events.'

'I think most people in America would look at that and say, 'Hmm, that just doesn't look right.' And I think they're right,' Collins said.

And Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, another moderate Republican who voted to acquit Trump after long agonizing over the decision, was asked whether Trump had taken any lessons from the impeachment saga. She offered that 'there haven't been any strong indicators this week that he has.'

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 735999

Reported Deaths: 13486
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1007151752
Lake54249977
Allen40946680
St. Joseph36335553
Hamilton35829408
Elkhart28844443
Tippecanoe22475219
Vanderburgh22367397
Porter18946311
Johnson18067381
Hendricks17317315
Clark13036192
Madison12762339
Vigo12501249
LaPorte12086215
Monroe11957172
Delaware10755187
Howard10001218
Kosciusko9466117
Hancock8373142
Bartholomew8098156
Warrick7799155
Floyd7690178
Grant7098174
Wayne7072199
Boone6745101
Morgan6611140
Dubois6166117
Marshall6111112
Cass5876105
Dearborn583178
Henry5785105
Noble565984
Jackson503773
Shelby494396
Lawrence4602120
Gibson437192
Harrison436672
DeKalb430585
Clinton428453
Montgomery425889
Whitley398739
Huntington394480
Steuben391057
Miami383968
Knox372890
Jasper372649
Putnam363760
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White317754
Daviess298399
Wells292081
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Greene280585
Posey272034
LaGrange268970
Scott267554
Clay261347
Washington242132
Randolph242081
Spencer232931
Jennings230949
Starke219354
Fountain213946
Sullivan212242
Owen203356
Jay197830
Fulton196040
Carroll190420
Orange184754
Perry184637
Rush174025
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Franklin168535
Tipton163445
Parke146716
Pike135634
Blackford135132
Pulaski117445
Newton108934
Brown102641
Crawford101415
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Warren82615
Switzerland7948
Union71410
Ohio57111
Unassigned0417

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1091623

Reported Deaths: 19528
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1268061406
Cuyahoga1132982134
Hamilton804211211
Montgomery518231015
Summit47606955
Lucas42618792
Butler38548585
Stark32661909
Lorain25199486
Warren24390300
Mahoning21795588
Lake20846371
Clermont19880240
Delaware18608133
Licking16488212
Fairfield16327200
Trumbull16196468
Medina15379266
Greene15143244
Clark14096299
Wood13168189
Portage12966206
Allen11740232
Richland11433199
Miami10713220
Wayne8923214
Columbiana8881229
Muskingum8831133
Pickaway8596121
Marion8561136
Tuscarawas8509245
Erie7958155
Hancock6944128
Ashtabula6904172
Ross6876156
Geauga6741148
Scioto6444102
Belmont5978168
Union575448
Lawrence5590102
Jefferson5583151
Huron5462120
Sandusky5380122
Darke5374126
Seneca5311122
Washington5228109
Athens520858
Auglaize494986
Mercer481585
Shelby470293
Knox4513110
Madison439363
Putnam4301101
Ashland426590
Fulton426469
Defiance424697
Crawford3993107
Brown397557
Logan383276
Preble381398
Clinton374163
Ottawa369081
Highland356862
Williams343475
Champaign335358
Guernsey317653
Jackson314152
Perry295950
Morrow287239
Fayette283550
Hardin271964
Henry270366
Coshocton266157
Holmes2625101
Van Wert244263
Adams240053
Pike238634
Gallia236749
Wyandot232155
Hocking216462
Carroll192448
Paulding174340
Meigs145540
Noble134137
Monroe132542
Harrison109637
Morgan108823
Vinton84915
Unassigned02
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