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As his trial winds down, Trump's 'enemies list' takes shape

In 2009, Lamar Alexander advised Barack Obama, "Don't create an enemies list." It was the right advice, directed at the wrong president.
Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.

Less than a year into Barack Obama's presidency, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) stood on the Senate floor to deliver a warning of sorts to the White House. After noting his experience on Richard Nixon's team, the Tennessee Republican said, "Based upon that experience and my 40 years since then in and out of public life, I want to make what I hope will be taken as a friendly suggestion to President Obama and his White House: Don't create an enemies list."

The impetus for the strange advice was vague -- the Democratic president had recently criticized Fox News, sparking howls about Nixonian tactics -- though Alexander nevertheless took note of the actions employed by Vice President Spiro Agnew and Chuck Colson decades earlier, adding that he saw "symptoms of this same kind of animus developing in the Obama administration."

In hindsight, Alexander's rhetoric seems quite foolish, but to the extent that Republicans are still concerned about presidents creating enemies lists, the party may want to take a look at the current occupant of the Oval Office. Gabriel Sherman has this striking new report in Vanity Fair this week:

With Senate Republicans on track to acquit Donald Trump on Wednesday, Washington is bracing for what an unshackled Trump does next. Republicans briefed on Trump's thinking believe that the president is out for revenge against his adversaries. "It's payback time," a prominent Republican told me last week. "He has an enemies list that is growing by the day," another source said.Names that came up in my conversations with Republicans included Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Mitt Romney, and John Bolton. "Trump's playbook is simple: go after people who crossed him during impeachment."

The former White House national security advisor, the report added, "is at the top of the list."

As a practical matter, it's not altogether clear what Trump will try to do to his perceived "enemies," and it's possible the answer is nothing. The president has spent many years making bold threats about filing a variety of lawsuits against his foes, for example, only to fail to follow through.

It's therefore possible that Trump is writing an "enemies list," with ambitions of vengeance and brutal retribution, which he'll proceed to forget about when the next shiny object crosses his path.

But it was last week when CBS News ran a report quoting a Trump confidant who said key senators had been warned that those who cross the White House will find their head "on a pike." As part of the trial proceedings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager, mentioned the CBS News report, prompting apoplectic Senate Republicans to feign outrage and reach for the fainting couch.

How dare someone suggest, GOP senators said, that the genteel president would even consider retaliating against those who betray him.

Yeah, imagine that.