Comey among the “dirty cops” behind the process

Final thoughts: So much for the “retribution.” Trump basically summed up his thoughts that he’s been expressing on Twitter and in front of the cameras for months, and spent most of the speech thanking his allies. It was far more rally than retribution, and Trump barely even mentioned Romney at all. If he’s planning on continuing to fight back, it’s entirely focused outwardly, if this speech is any indication.

1:24 —Thanks family, finished speech, and exits to “God Bless America.”

1:22 — Impeachment was “a phony, rotten deal by some very evil and sick people.”

1:20 — Now criticizing Nancy Pelosi for hypocrisy over starting impeachment in the first place. Quotes her earlier insistence that it shouldn’t be started without bipartisan support. Laments a wasted year in Congress.

1:18 — Goes after Robert Mueller, too, calling him part of the “top scum” at the FBI.

1:15 — Back to Russia-collusion, this time hitting at Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page. “They were going to try to overthrow the government,” Trump says, and said they would have succeeded had he not fired “sleazebag” Comey. Promises that they will pursue the investigation into the situation.

1:07 — It’s been a while since impeachment even came up. He’s doing a great recap of the attack on Steve Scalise and other congressmen at the moment.

1:02 — Still running down the thank-yous, not making any comments on the case at the moment. Tweaks Mark Meadows for supporting another candidate in the 2016 cycle at first.

12:54 — Mentions Iowa fiasco, repeats the GOP criticism that Democrats want to run health care but can’t count votes, and notes his own 97% win in the GOP caucuses.

12:52 — Still notable that Trump is not putting forth a specific and detailed rebuttal, but rather just noting the same arguments he’s made during the impeachment process. He’s having fun.

12:51 — Trump pledges to work hard to make Kevin McCarthy the next Speaker because of impeachment. Says he will stump in “Trump districts” to get Republicans elected to the House.

12:47 — Rips Hunter Biden for being corrupt, having been kicked out of the military, and getting hired by Burisma when he was broke and getting showered in cash.

12:46 — Casually says Mike Pompeo was on the Zelensky call, which Pompeo had at one time avoided acknowledging.

12:44 — The victory lap is continuing, calling both Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi both “horrible person[s].” Democrats “stick together like glue,” and says they’d impeach anyone if they saw a political advantage in it. “They’ll probably come back for more,” Trump says, unless they start paying attention to the polls. Cites his own numbers, but jokes, “It’s no way to get your poll numbers up.”

12:42 — First allusion to Mitt Romney, but to contrast him with Mike Lee. And then adds at the end, “Tell the people of Utah: I’m sorry about Mitt Romney.”

12:37 — Alludes to potentially stepping on these remarks at the prayer breakfast this morning, and says that these remarks will eclipse those. Perhaps that’s an acknowledgment that he might have misjudged that moment, but if so, it’s only by implication. Proceeding with more thanks to others in the room.

12:36 — What’s clear, after the initial start to this, is that Trump is enjoying himself. This is a kind of rally speech, and Trump himself called it a “celebration” rather than a speech.

12:35 — High praise for Mitch McConnell, while noting that he’s very difficult to read. Lots of laughter in the room for those comments.

12:32 — Calls Adam Schiff a “corrupt politician” and a “failed screenwriter.” Makes a quick reference to the Vindmans but doesn’t go any further.

12:31 — Is focusing all of his criticism thus far on the Russia-collusion investigation. No specific mention yet of the Ukraine-Gate allegations, but he’s clearly making a case that Democrats were trying to manufacture an impeachment to undo the election.

12:29 — Says Russia-collusion allegations were “bullshit.”

12:28 — Holds up his acquittal headline and jokes, “This is the only good headline I’ve gotten from the Washington Post,” to laughs around the room.

12:27 — “I did nothing wrong, nothing wrong,” Trump insists.

12:24 — James Comey was among the “dirty cops” who created the impeachment process, and says if he hadn’t fired Comey he might not be standing there. That was also the argument for obstruction on that point from Democrats, too, but Trump accused Comey of trying to cook a case against him.

12:23 — “It was evil, it was corrupt…”

12:21 — Finally starting with “Hail to the Chief,” which is clearly intended to send its own message.

12:19 — Here’s something to consider as the delay drags on — it allows the news channels to fill the time with whatever context and framing they prefer. It might be smarter to get these events under way as close to the announced time as possible in the future. Just sayin’.

12:13 — My pal and colleague Katie Pavlich is in the room, too. Cameras still turned off:

Update, 12:03 pm ET — Looks like they’re running a bit late, as is usual for White House events. The stream is running but they haven’t turned the cameras on, although people are apparently being seated in the East Room. Standing by.

Original post follows …

Originally, the White House scheduled this noon speech as Donald Trump’s first remarks after his Senate acquittal on impeachment. Trump threw a wrench into the works by, er, previewing his thoughts at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. He didn’t sound interested in the Gospel exhortation of turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies this morning, and Stephanie Grisham warned that he won’t sound any more interested in either this afternoon.

He’ll show some “humility,” Grisham told Fox News, but also about how to make people “pay for that.” Hmmmmm.

Aaron Blake wonders if the “heads on a pike” moment has arrived:

Shortly after the vote, Trump and his team were clearly out for revenge against those he believed had wronged him. And that’s especially the case with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who on Wednesday became the first member of a president’s own party to vote to remove him from office.

The White House said in a statement after Trump’s acquittal that “only the President’s political opponents — all Democrats, and one failed Republican presidential candidate — voted for the manufactured impeachment articles.” …

The Post also reported in July 2017 that at a lunch with GOP senators Trump “threatened electoral consequences for senators who oppose him, suggesting that Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) could lose his reelection bid next year if he does not back the effort. The president also invited conservative opposition against anyone else who stands in the way.”

The pattern is obvious, and however direct the threat was in this case, there’s no mistaking what awaited any senator like Romney who voted against Trump. Trump has used retribution as perhaps his most effective political tool, keeping GOP lawmakers mostly in line and keeping himself relevant, even at the depths of his popularity.

Eh … meh. Point me to the president who hasn’t used his influence in the same manner to enforce party discipline, and I’ll show you the president who doesn’t get anything passed in Congress. Let’s just say, though, that Trump didn’t sound interested in letting bygones be bygones this morning, in what Grisham called a “preview” of what’s coming up next. That certainly fits his pugnacious, hit-back-twice-as-hard instincts, but it might be a bit of a gamble. Right now Trump’s peaking in the polls, his State of the Union speech reset the public narrative of his presidency, and his political opponents are melting down in Iowa. Trump’s having the best week of his presidency right now, Guy Benson writes:

It feels both counter-intuitive and a bit surreal to render this analysis within the context of a just-concluded, acrimonious impeachment trial, but there’s a serious case to be made that this week’s Sunday-through-Wednesday stretch represented the most politically-advantageous four-day period of Donald Trump’s presidency to date. …

All in all, not a bad run of 96 hours, coinciding with the opposition party’s shambolic, formal start to 2020 voting. I’ll leave you with this question — which may seem snarky, but it’s absolutely apt, given Trump’s penchant for self-destructive nonsense:

Perhaps the president’s smart restraint in declining to mention impeachment during the State of the Union was a positive omen for at least a relative modicum of election season discipline.

This might be a first test of message discipline, or it might just be seen as a victory lap in which Trump is owed at least one last opportunity to let his id off its leash for a brief run around the room. Nancy Pelosi might have been the Tore Loser, as the New York Post put it, but will Trump be a sore winner — or offer another look at a let’s get down to business presidency?

You can watch the speech live below on the White House’s YouTube channel. I’ll live-blog the speech and offer my own analysis with reverse-chronological updates at the top.

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