- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2020

An upbeat and defiant President Trump declared victory over his five-month impeachment ordeal Thursday, saying in a White House celebration that he and his family “went through hell,” while he launched attacks against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney at the National Prayer Breakfast.

“We’ve been going through this now for over three years,” Mr. Trump told a White House East Room audience filled with members of his legal team, congressional Republican allies and Cabinet officials. “It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops. It was leakers and liars. This should never happen to another president ever.”

With satisfaction, Mr. Trump said of his Democratic tormentors, “They took nothing and brought me to a final vote on impeachment. It’s called total acquittal.”

The audience of friends, family, staffers and loyal Republican lawmakers gave him several standing ovations.

In his first public comments after his Wednesday acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, Mr. Trump praised his own resilience under pressure and, eyeing the November election, pivoted to his record, saying the stock market is booming.

He also took a second victory lap for his State of the Union address Tuesday and predicted that the impeachment saga will backfire on Democrats. He told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California that he will become House speaker next year.

“We’re going to win a lot of seats,” Mr. Trump said. “People are very angry.”

Even as he celebrated the end of what he calls the “witch hunt,” the president seemed resigned that he will have to fight off more Democratic investigations from Congress and New York state officials.

“We’ll probably have to go through this again because these people are stone-cold crazy,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve beaten them all my life, and I’ll beat them again if I have to.”

The president’s first day of rhetorical payback for impeachment began, of all places, at the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, a bipartisan event usually featuring calls for unity. On the dais with him was Mrs. Pelosi, who led the failed effort to remove him from office and made a show Tuesday night of ripping up a copy of the president’s State of the Union address.

The theme of the prayer breakfast was “love your enemies.” Keynote speaker Arthur Brooks, a Harvard University professor, said Jesus Christ told his followers to “answer hatred with love.”

“Ask God to take political contempt from your heart,” Mr. Brooks said.

When the president stepped to the podium, he turned to Mr. Brooks and said, “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.”

Referring to Mrs. Pelosi and to Mr. Romney, the Utah Republican who was the lone senator from his party to vote for Mr. Trump’s conviction, the president attacked them without using their names.

“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Mr. Trump said. “Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you’ when they know that that’s not so.”

Mrs. Pelosi fired back at her weekly press conference at the Capitol, saying the president acted inappropriately by criticizing his political opponents at a bipartisan event.

“I don’t know if the president understands about prayer or the people who do pray,” she said. “I thought what he said about Sen. Romney was particularly without class.”

Mrs. Pelosi praised Mr. Romney for breaking ranks with his party.

“God bless him for his courage,” she said.

The president said of those who led his impeachment, “They know what they are doing is wrong.

“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” the president said at the prayer breakfast. “They have done everything possible to destroy us. And by so doing very badly hurt our nation. They put themselves far ahead of our great country.”

He praised the faithful in the ballroom for loving others but added, “Sometimes they hate people.

“I’m sorry, I apologize. I’m trying to learn,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s not easy. When they impeach you for nothing, and then you’re supposed to like them, it’s not easy, folks. I do my best.”

A co-host of the breakfast, Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi, New York Democrat, said, “‘Love your enemies’ is a tough message. Not everybody seems to get it yet, but we’re going to work on it.”

The president recited his support for freedom of religion, his pro-life policies and his support for prayer in schools.

“You’d better get out and vote on Nov. 3. You have a lot of people out there who are liking what we’re doing,” the president said.

Later at the White House, the president rambled at times in hourlong remarks, riffing on Rep. Jim Jordan’s ears and workout routine, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s poker face and the “whack job” who shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise at a baseball practice in 2017. He raised guffaws when he remembered how “inconsolable” Mr. Scalise’s wife was after he was shot and quipped, “A lot of wives wouldn’t give a damn.”

But he relished the laughs and applause from Republican loyalists, including senators who acquitted him Wednesday. Mr. Trump clapped for them, like he does at campaign rallies, ribbed top Republicans and riffed on FBI “scum” who started the counterintelligence investigation of his 2016 presidential campaign.

He called Rep. Adam B. Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the lead House impeachment manager, “a vicious, horrible person.” He called Mrs. Pelosi “a horrible person.”

He mentioned former FBI agent Peter Strzok and his FBI paramour, Lisa Page, who had exchanged text messages pledging to “stop” Mr. Trump. “They were going to try and overthrow the government of the United States — a duly elected president,” he said.

“And if I didn’t fire James Comey, we would have never found this stuff,” Mr. Trump said. “Because when I fired that sleazebag, all hell broke out. They were ratting on each other. They were running for the hills.”

Referring to a Justice Department probe of the origins of the FBI investigation against him, Mr. Trump said, “It’s in the hands of some very talented people. We’re going to have to see what happens.”

Mr. Trump recounted his grievances with the Russian interference probe, calling it “b—-s—-,” and said he doesn’t think past presidents would have been able to withstand the scrutiny.

“They wanted to inflict political pain on somebody who had just won an election,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump took his victory lap one day after the Senate acquitted him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, rejecting Democrats’ push to remove him over his request for political investigations in Ukraine as he withheld military aid from the country.

The president thanked his family for standing by him and held up a copy of a newspaper that said “Trump acquitted” in large letters.

“It was the only good headline I’ve ever had in The Washington Post,” he said.

Though the acquittal was expected, Mr. Romney made history by becoming the first senator ever to vote to convict a president in his own party. He joined Democrats in condemning Mr. Trump for abuse of power — though they were still a minority, and Mr. Trump was judged “not guilty” on a 52-48 vote.

Mr. Romney did side with Mr. Trump and fellow Republicans for the obstruction vote, which was defeated 53-47. Both were well shy of the two-thirds needed to convict and oust the president.

“We can say that Mike Lee is by far the most popular senator from the state,” said Mr. Trump, pointing to a seated Mr. Lee, a Republican who voted to acquit the president.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Lee, “Say hello to the people of Utah and tell them ‘I’m sorry about Mitt Romney. I’m sorry.’”

The president said Mr. Romney “can’t stand the fact” that he didn’t beat President Obama in 2012. He referred to Mr. Romney several times as a “failed” presidential candidate, and senior administration officials went on the airwaves to undermine Mr. Romney’s assertion that his faith played a role in voting against the president.

Mr. Trump quickly disabused the notion that he would be chastened by the impeachment drive. He continued to insist he did nothing wrong, despite doubts from senators in his own party, and relitigated his case against Hunter Biden, whose business ties in Ukraine during his father’s time as vice president formed the basis for the impeachment case.

Democrats said Mr. Trump sought investigations to damage Joseph R. Biden, who had just launched his 2020 presidential bid and was beating Mr. Trump in many polls.

“My kids could make a fortune, it’s corrupt,” Mr. Trump said.

The president also said the U.S. is a “sucker” that pays far too much for international aid, shoring up another defense he put forward for holding up millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine.

He briefly critiqued one of his own aides — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council employee who listened in on the call and raised concerns about it.

He also fumed over Democratic senators who are running to replace him in November but were allowed to vote against him during the trial.

Mr. McConnell attended the ceremony alongside vocal House supporters such as Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Mr. Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida.

The president went out of his way to praise Mr. McConnnell, who resisted attempts to call witnesses during the impeachment trial and faces reelection in Kentucky.

Mr. Trump also took credit for boosting Sen. Josh Hawley in the 2018 campaign, saying it paid off when the Missourian backed the president on TV during impeachment. He also singled out Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, a New York Republican who is having a fundraising boom after speaking in support of Mr. Trump in the House.

“When she opens that mouth — you were killing them, Elise,” Mr. Trump said.

Near the end of his remarks, the president called first lady Melania Trump to the stage.

“I want to apologize to my family for having them have to go through a phony, rotten deal by some very sick, evil people. And that includes Barron,” he said, referring to his son who turns 14 next month.

The president even asked several lawmakers whether they wanted to speak. Mr. Meadows was the only one who did. He said the turnout in the East Room “is a small reflection of the kind of support you have all across the country.”

“We’ve got your back,” Mr. Meadows told the president.

• Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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