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Since Impeachment Acquittal, President Trump Has Been Acting Especially Unburdened


In the week since the Senate acquitted President Trump, he has rewarded those who stuck by him and gone after those who did not. Today Attorney General William Barr suggested in an interview that some of the president's attacks went too far, at least when it comes to Justice Department cases. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports on a president unburdened by impeachment.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When Republican senators voted to acquit President Trump, a handful who said they were troubled by his behavior said they hoped he had learned a lesson. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski was one of them. Asked about that hope yesterday, Murkowski let out a long sigh.

LISA MURKOWSKI: Well, there haven't been very strong indicators this week that he has.

KEITH: There have been firings. There have been Twitter tirades. And then there's the matter of Roger Stone, the longtime Trump associate found guilty on seven counts in the Russia investigation. Trump has made very clear he wants Stone to get a lighter sentence, which led to this exchange in the Oval Office as reporters peppered Trump with questions


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: What lesson did you learn from impeachment?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That the Democrats are crooked - they've got a lot of crooked things going, that they're vicious, that they shouldn't have brought impeachment...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Anything about yourself?

TRUMP: ...And that my poll numbers are 10 points higher because...

KEITH: So about that lesson. During the Senate trial, Trump was restrained by his standards. For 24 days, he didn't once stop to talk to the mass of journalists assembled on the South Lawn waiting for his departure on Marine One. Day after day, he just walked by - until the vote.


TRUMP: So I just got this. It was just handed to me.

KEITH: Chopper talk was back. And Trump was out to settle some scores. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who testified in the impeachment inquiry, had stayed in his job at the National Security Council, but Trump teased he wouldn't be there much longer.


TRUMP: Well, I'm not happy with him. You think I'm supposed to be happy with him? I'm not. They'll make that decision. You'll be hearing.

KEITH: Within hours, Vindman and his twin brother, a lawyer for the NSC, were both escorted off the White House grounds. Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union who had testified that there was in fact a quid pro quo with Ukraine, was out, too.

Barry Bennett was an adviser on the 2016 Trump campaign.

BARRY BENNETT: Part of it is, you know, settling the score.

KEITH: He says, for Trump, impeachment was just a continuation of what Bennett calls the farcical Russia investigation.

BENNETT: In his mind, the acquittal, now with this all behind him, has enabled him to do some things that he's wanted to do. And, you know, he is speaking more freely.

KEITH: And speak freely Trump has, repeatedly attacking Mitt Romney, the only Republican senator to vote to convict. Democrats he thought should have supported him have come in for abuse, too. And for Trump's allies, there's been a lot of love - events at the White House, rides on Air Force One to campaign rallies - and for Roger Stone, support and indignation. Early Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted outrage over a seven-to-nine-year sentence recommended by career prosecutors. That afternoon, the Justice Department reduced the recommendation, earning praise from Trump.


TRUMP: I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this - this horrible thing. And I didn't speak to them, by the way, just so you understand. They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing. You have murderers and drug addicts that don't get nine years.

KEITH: Meanwhile, Trump mean-tweeted the prosecutors, even the judge overseeing the case. He pulled the nomination of another official connected to the whole thing who was up for a job at the Treasury Department. For the Republican senators for voted to acquit, there have been a lot of questions but not a lot of answers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was quizzed during his weekly press conference.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Are you concerned about favoritism in any way?

MITCH MCCONNELL: Yeah, I don't have an opinion on that.

KEITH: In a statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham responded to the extraordinary rebuke, saying Trump, quote, "wasn't bothered by the comments at all." She added that the attorney general has the right, just like any American, to offer his opinions. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.