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Following impeachment acquittal, Trump celebrates with no regrets

Several Senate Republicans said Donald Trump would never abuse his power again because he'd learned his lesson. He made them look pretty bad today.
Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House
President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House.Evan Vucci / AP

It was 21 years ago this month when the U.S. Senate voted on two articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton. The sitting Democratic president was acquitted on both counts -- Republicans needed two-thirds majorities to remove Clinton from office, but they didn't even get a simple majority on either charge.

Soon after, Clinton stood alone in the Rose Garden and delivered brief remarks from a presidential podium. He spoke for a minute and a half -- the speech, such as it was, totaled just 129 words -- and it was marked by the Democrat's contrition. "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," Clinton said.

In the wake of Donald Trump's Senate impeachment acquittal, he chose a radically different course.

An emboldened President Donald Trump took a vengeful victory lap from the White House less than 24 hours after his acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, lashing out at his adversaries, touting his perceived accomplishments and denying any wrongdoing.

In a disjointed, freewheeling speech from the East Room of the White House, the president railed at his adversaries, repeatedly going after former FBI director James Comey, and celebrated his triumph in the Senate trial, waving around a copy of The Washington Post with the headline "Trump Acquitted."

The version of Trump that Americans saw this week during the State of the Union address was carefully scripted. The version of Trump that Americans saw speaking from the White House this afternoon was manic, rambling, and an odd combination of self-pitying and self-congratulating.

As Eric Levitz put it, "He sounded like nothing so much as a bus-stop crank making unrequited conversation with a crowd of increasingly unnerved and impatient commuters."

At one point, the president even went so far as to suggest he "probably" had "a legal obligation" to pressure Ukraine to go after the Bidens -- which is a line of argument so strange that even his defense attorneys didn't try to raise it during the Senate trial.

But putting aside the bizarre details of the hour-long event, Trump's harangue brought an important truth into focus: there's no way he learned any valuable lessons from this ordeal.

Whereas Clinton expressed "profound" regret for the actions he took that triggered his scandal, Trump blamed a legion of perceived enemies -- some of whom he labeled "evil" -- but took no responsibility for executing the illegal extortion scheme.

Some are likely to see this and think, "Well, sure, of course he blamed everyone but himself." But let's not forget that a variety of Senate Republicans, trying to help justify their "not guilty" votes, publicly made case that the president would never again abuse his power because, as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) put it the other day, he'd "learned from this case" and "will be much more cautious in the future."

Those who watched Trump rant and rave for an hour in the East Room this afternoon should realize how backward that is. Indeed, he once again explicitly bragged, "I did nothing wrong." Reality suggests otherwise, but the president, having no use for the evidence, has convinced himself of his own innocence.

To borrow Collins' phrasing, what Trump seems to have "learned from this case" is how impressive his awesomeness is, and how easy it is to get away with wrongdoing, thanks to GOP allies who are willing to overlook his guilt.

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