Trump’s Lesson From Impeachment
Yes, Senator Collins, he learned one. Just not the one you thought
So much happens so quickly these days
Let us cast our spectacle-weary minds back to the Senate’s uber-partisan acquittal of President Trump by Republican senators (except for Mitt Romney) on February 5. At the time, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and one of only two Republican senators who supported calling more witnesses in the Senate trial rationalized her vote by using wishful thinking.
As Salon reported on Feb. 5, Collins suggested Trump would be chastened and much more circumspect going forward.
“I believe that the president has learned from this case,” Collins told CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell. “The president has been impeached — that’s a pretty big lesson.” . . . “He was impeached. And there has been criticism by both Republican and Democratic senators of his call,” she said, referring to Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future.”
The brakes are off the crazy train
Now that the Current Occupant has had his last shred of restraint obliterated in the wake of his acquittal, he is now free to focus his energies on exactly what we all should have expected, given his performance in office to date.
Namely, retaliation. Perhaps Fearful Leader is following the lead of Eddie Gallagher, the Navy Seal platoon leader whom Trump pardoned after Gallagher was convicted for war crimes based on testimony from his own platoon members.
There have been so many outrages between then and now, but perhaps you recall Eddie Gallagher: he’s the guy who posed for a photo with the body of an Islamic State youth he’d killed — apparently with a hunting knife since the weapon was featured in the pic along with a gleeful caption from Gallagher (“Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”). He was also accused by Navy detectives of shooting a schoolgirl and an old man from his sniper’s roost, and was described by one of his former platoon’s most experienced members as “freaking evil.” Yeah, that guy.
Gallagher’s response upon his reinstatement — after posing for a photo with the Current Occupant and Melania at Mar-a-Lago — was to splash his accusers in an online video, publicly broadcasting their names. This is counter to Navy protocol, as noted in the January 28, 2020 edition of Military Times:
In a statement to the paper, Naval Special Warfare Command spokeswoman Capt. Tamara Lawrence said that, as a practice, the Navy does not identify active-duty SEALs.
“We don’t identify them by name, or by any other manner, due to the nature of their work, for the protection of their teammates and their families, and to protect on-going and future missions,” Lawrence told the newspaper.
Just the kind of guy you want defending your country
But he seems to serve as a handy role model for the Disruptor in Chief. Last week Trump had Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman — Purple Heart recipient, Iraq war veteran — escorted out of the White House (along with his twin brother, just for good measure) and sent back to the Pentagon in retribution for Lt. Col. Vindman having had the temerity to answer a summons from the House of Representatives to testify in their impeachment hearings.
As of yesterday, Trump is making thinly veiled assertions that the military should take disciplinary measures against Lt. Col. Vindman. The New York Times noted (“Trump’s War Against ‘the Deep State’ Enters a New Stage,” February 11, 2020):
“That’s going to be up to the military,” Mr. Trump told reporters who asked whether Colonel Vindman should face disciplinary action after testifying in the House hearings that led to the president’s impeachment. “But if you look at what happened,” Mr. Trump added in threatening terms, “I mean they’re going to, certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that.”
Clear enough, Mr. President, if not articulate
The same day Trump had the Vindman brothers marched out of the White House, he also fired Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union, who likewise testified in the House impeachment hearings when called to do so by Congress. As Tom Spiggle writes in a piece in Forbes (“The Legality of Trump’s firings of Lt. Col Vindman and Ambassador Sondland,” Feb. 13, 2020):
If this happened in the employment context, Trump and his company would be in serious legal trouble for those retaliatory firings . . . the fact remains that when viewed within an employment law lens, Trump’s firings would not only clearly be illegal, but he’d have little to no chance of getting away with it.
But, as Spiggle notes, he will get away with it, because, y’know, presidential power, elections have consequences, etc. And anyway, it pales in comparison to blackmailing a foreign power to dig up dirt on a political rival. Which Trump totally got away with. It also seems Trump is getting away with pressuring the Department of Justice to reduce his pal and former political fixer Roger Stone’s sentence.
Stone, you’ll recall, was convicted on seven counts including witness tampering and lying to investigators, and was sentenced to seven to nine years at the urging of federal prosecutors — who work, of course, for the DOJ. But when Trump fired off indignant tweets in response to the sentencing, William Barr fairly tripped over his oath of office in his haste to whittle down Stone’s time.
The four career prosecutors on the case have all now withdrawn from it, and one of them has resigned his job entirely. Barr is catching heat for his actions now, but he’s apparently way more anxious to appease Trumpertantrums than he is to do his job with even the appearance of impartiality.
And now, U.S. attorneys and federal prosecutors are worried about confronting pressure from the Trump White House for trying to do their jobs (“After Stone Case, Prosecutors Say They Fear Pressure From Trump,” New York Times, February 12 & 13, 2020).
The purge is far from over
Taking the classic paranoia-and-persecution cue from the autocrat playbook, Trump is ramping up his assault on whoever he feels is so insufficiently loyal to him that they might wish to hold him accountable. Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for the New York Times, wrote on February 11:
More axes are sure to fall. A senior Pentagon official appears in danger of losing her nomination to a top Defense Department post after questioning the president’s suspension of aid to Ukraine. Likewise, a prosecutor involved in Mr. Stone’s case has lost a nomination to a senior Treasury Department position. A key National Security Council official is said by colleagues to face dismissal. And the last of dozens of career officials being transferred out of the White House may be gone by the end of the week.
According to Salon, Senator Collins has taken to simply shutting her door on reporters who want to know if she still thinks Trump learned his lesson. In the same article, Salon’s Igor Derysh notes Trump’s answer to a question from NBC News’ Peter Alexander, who asked him what lesson he learned from impeachment:
“That the Democrats are crooked — they’ve got a lot of crooked things going — that they’re vicious, that they shouldn’t have brought impeachment and that my poll numbers are 10 points higher because of fake news like NBC, which reports the news very inaccurately,” Trump responded.
So there you go, Senator
The President learned his lesson, all right. He’s learned that he can get away with anything.
And it’s clear he plans to do exactly that.