In a new Op-Ed for “Think” liberal journalist Robert Schlesinger warns that he believes Trump will “purge everyone he thinks is disloyal.”
It didn’t take long to find out what an unleashed Donald Trump looks like — and I’m not referring to his petulant, un-Christian comments at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning or even his toxic, stream-of-subconsciousness victory lap in the East Room of the White House early that afternoon, during which the leader of the free world introduced “top scum” and “bullshit” to the public presidential lexicon.
Sure, both performances offered disturbing glimpses into Trump’s very scary emotional state, as if his Twitter feed weren’t enough. But even as he debuted the latest iteration of his angry-victim performance art, he and his allies also started settling scores in a startlingly open way.
In a certain sense, the rhetoric was no surprise: Trump has always described himself as a counterpuncher, unwilling to let any perceived slight pass. But now, free from impeachment’s shadow and safe in the knowledge that congressional Republicans will forgive literally any trespass, he’s counterpunching with reckless abandon, going beyond even what his detractors had imagined.
We knew that he was compiling an impeachment “enemy’s list” and now, the official White House statement on his acquittal asked of one of his prosecutors: “Will there be no retribution?” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham appeared on Fox News on Thursday morning to drive home that message, promising that Trump would be talking about how victimized he feels and that, “maybe people should pay for that.”
Pay indeed. Trump Friday fired Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman and had him escorted from the White House complex. Vindman was the National Security Council staffer who raised questions about Trump’s infamous Ukraine phone call and then testified in the House impeachment inquiry under subpoena. And Trump purged Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, as well, in a triumph of petty vindictiveness. (He was, of all things, an ethics lawyer, which makes it amazing this White House employed him in the first place.)
On Friday night, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who had allegedly spearheaded Trump’s effort to get the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens and then testified in the impeachment hearings, was also sacked in apparent retaliation for his impeachment testimony, which was also given under subpoena.
Gabriel Sherman wrote in “Vanity Fair” last week, 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.”
Several sources said Bolton is at the top of the list. Trump’s relationship with Bolton was badly damaged by the time Bolton left the White House in September.
Trump has since blamed his former national security adviser for leaking details of his forthcoming memoir that nearly derailed the impeachment trial by pressuring Republicans to call witnesses. In the book Bolton reportedly alleges Trump told him directly that Ukraine aid was tied to Ukraine announcing investigations into the Bidens (Bolton has denied being a source of the leak).