Did Trump Learn Any Lessons From Impeachment? His Actions—and Lawmakers' Remarks—Suggest Not

President Donald Trump's behavior in the wake of his impeachment acquittal has raised questions over whether the commander in chief sees his exoneration as a warning or an opportunity to act increasingly audacious.

In the week since the end of his Senate trial, Trump has ousted two officials who testified against him during the House impeachment inquiry, vowed political retribution and chastised perceived political enemies, and urged the Justice Department to extend leniency in the sentencing of former associate Roger Stone while berating the former prosecutors who'd been overseeing the case.

Asked whether the president appears to have learned any lessons from his impeachment, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, "Well, there haven't been very strong indicators this week that he has."

"I don't know that you're seeing anything different today than you have in the past," said Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican to break from his party and vote to convict Trump. "The president is who he is. He doesn't change the logic."

Romney wasn't the only Republican to deny that the recent actions of the reality-TV-star-turned-president have been out of line with his previous presidential behavior. But many Republicans offered mixed responses, ranging from the president's demeanor is concerning to it's simply par for the course.

"He seems the same as he did two weeks ago," Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the last GOP senators to decide how she would vote on whether the trial should hear from witnesses, said her decision to acquit was unrelated to how Trump might respond.

"My vote to acquit the president was not based on predicting his future behavior," she said, sidestepping a question about whether Trump has appeared emboldened. "It was based solely on the issue whether or not the House [impeachment] managers reached the high bar for removing a duly-elected president. And in my judgment, they did not."

Like Collins, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also faced a tough decision on witnesses but ultimately decided against them and supported Trump's acquittal.

"I would hope that the president would learn from that experience," the retiring lawmaker said. "The president is his own person, and I'm my own person. You can judge whether you think he has."

Did Trump learn lessons impeachment acquittal
President Donald Trump holds a copy of The Washington Post on February 6, the day after the Senate acquitted him on two articles of impeachment. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

Amid public gripes by Trump this week, the Justice Department, headed by Attorney General William Barr, took the unusual step of recommending "far less" prison time than the seven to nine years already suggested for Stone. The move prompted the four DOJ prosecutors on the case, who Trump later railed against on Twitter, to quit in apparent protest.

Stone is awaiting sentencing by a judge for lying to Congress about his WikiLeaks contacts during the 2016 election and witness tampering, among other things. Trump has toyed with the notion publicly in recent days that he's considering a pardon for the former associate.

And last week, Trump abruptly removed Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, from his White House post. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was recalled the same day just hours later. Both men gave damning testimony about the president's Ukraine dealings during the House's impeachment inquiry.

Democrats have pointed to Trump's latest actions and rhetoric as an "I told you so" slap against Republicans. His acquittal, they argue, has only emboldened him to act more brazenly than before.

"My Republican colleagues are continuing with their magical thinking that he will somehow learn a lesson—just the opposite," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Newsweek. He's called for Barr's resignation over the Stone case and says Trump "seems completely unhinged."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the only lesson Trump has learned is that "the Republican Party will not hold him accountable, no matter how egregious his behavior."

Some Republicans have indicated that while Trump's recent conduct, like intervening in a legal case, may not have been appropriate, his other actions, such as determining whom he wants working in the White House and for the administration abroad, are justified and acceptable.

Trump may be emboldened since his acquittal, Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said, and it's been with situations "that have been searing and have a little bit more reaction possibility."

"I think, in general, that he knows what we went through disrupted the entire agenda," he said. "The agenda is what I think is going to be the main selling point for getting re-elected, and that means avoiding any of the stuff that was related to the entanglement through impeachment."

Trump's involvement in Stone's case, Braun continued, is "not inconsistent with how he has commented and weighed in over time."

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), while agreeing Trump's intervention in the Stone case was "not appropriate," flatly denied that the president has been emboldened by his acquittal.

"I think he feels like the people are out to get him, going overboard. I mean, just put yourself in his shoes," said Graham, a Trump confidant. "There's just a general frustration that there's a double standard in the media and in the law."

Did Trump Learn Any Lessons From Impeachment? His Actions—and Lawmakers' Remarks—Suggest Not | Analysis