WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used a White House ceremony Thursday to celebrate his impeachment acquittal, saying he had “been through hell” in a process he blamed on “leakers and liars” who had unfairly accused him of misconduct in his dealings with Ukraine.
After entering the formal East Room to the anthem “Hail to the Chief,” Trump praised Republican lawmakers and his legal team as “warriors” and accused Democrats of trying to destroy the country by removing him from office.
“They brought me to the final stages of impeachment, but now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought a word would sound so good. It’s called total acquittal,” said Trump, standing before Cabinet members, Republican lawmakers and family members.
In 63 minutes of unscripted remarks, he called out dozens of people by name to thank them for defending him, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other lawmakers. McConnell and other senators served as jurors in the impeachment trial.
While Trump himself billed the event as a “celebration,” it was also clear he was still seething over his impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House.
Impeachment is a “very ugly word to me. It’s a dark word,” Trump said.
Trump said the impeachment and the Ukraine investigation that preceded it were part of a years-long effort to go after him. He alluded frequently to the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“And it never really stopped. We’ve been going through this now for over three years. It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops, it was leakers and liars, and this should never ever happen to another president,” he said.
Before the president appeared, Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, the two lawyers who defended him in his impeachment trial, drew a round of applause as they entered the room.
“But today is a day to celebrate these great warriors, right?” Trump said.
Trump was joined by several allies in Congress, including Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, John Ratcliffe of Texas, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Doug Collins of Georgia. Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri were also in the audience.
After laying out a laundry list of gripes, Trump touted the stock market and the soaring economy. He discussed his State of the Union speech, saying he received high marks from people he spoke with after his address.
But then he almost immediately returned to impeachment, retelling his version of the investigations.
“We went through hell, unfairly,” Trump said. “But this is what the end result is,” he added, holding up the front page of The Washington Post with a headline “Trump acquitted.”
Embracing a line he often uses at his campaign rallies, Trump claimed that the investigations were “all bulls—.”
Trump was impeached by the House on Dec. 18, then acquitted by the Senate Wednesday, over allegations he invited foreign influence in the 2020 election by pressuring Ukraine to gather dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential contender.
Among Trump’s targets in Thursday’s speech was Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the former 2012 GOP presidential candidate and the only Republican who voted with Democrats to convict him.
“Things can happen when you fail so badly,” Trump said of the Utah Republican. “I’m sorry about Mitt Romney.”
Romney became the first senator in the nation’s history to vote to convict a president of his own party. The vote robbed Trump of the ability to say that Republicans were unified against his removal.
Trump also referred to his appearance at a prayer breakfast Thursday morning, when the defiant president unloaded on those who tried to impeach him, telling the crowd he was put through “a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people.”
Tensions were palpable as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who presided over the impeachment drive, sat nearby at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
“I had Nancy Pelosi sitting four seats away and I’m saying things a lot people wouldn’t have said but I meant it. I meant every word,” he said later at the White House before calling Pelosi “a horrible person.”
Trump, who has used those probes to sell an us-against-them theme on the campaign trail, sharpened his criticism of Democrats in the remarks.
Democrats are “vicious people” and “lousy politicians,” he said, but “they stick together like glue.”
“That’s how they impeached,” he added, saying, “They’ll probably come back for more.”
Trump said he suspects Democrats aren’t done with accusations against him.
“I’m sure they’ll try to cook up other things,” he said. “They’ll do whatever they can. Because instead of wanting to heal our country and fix our country … they want to destroy our country. We can’t let it happen.”
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As was long expected, Democrats fell far short of the 67 votes needed to remove the president from office. The Senate voted 52-48 on Wednesday to acquit Trump on the charge that he abused his power and 53-47 on the charge that he obstructed Congress.
The scorched-earth remarks were in stark contrast to President Bill Clinton’s remarks following his acquittal on impeachment charges triggered by his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“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 the American people,” a contrite Clinton said during a Rose Garden speech on Feb. 12, 1999.
Clinton asked all Americans to “rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together.”
“This can be, and this must be, a time of reconciliation and renewal for America,” he said.
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