Updated on February 11 at 5:51 p.m.
The Senate’s acquittal of Donald Trump elicited predictions that the president would now be “unleashed,” freed to do as he pleased. His actions over the past few days offer a first glimpse of what that might look like. With the threat of accountability gone, or at least diminished, Trump is bestowing favor on his loyal defenders, and visiting revenge on those he feels have betrayed him.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who testified in the impeachment hearings, was sacked from his post on the National Security Council, in what presidential aides made very clear was revenge. For good measure, so was his twin brother, a lawyer at the NSC and a fellow Army officer. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was asked to resign, and when he refused, he was fired Friday night. Elaine McCusker, who had been tapped to be Pentagon comptroller but clashed with the White House over freezing military aid to Ukraine, will have her nomination withdrawn, according to the New York Post.
And today, a day after prosecutors requested seven to nine years in prison for Roger Stone, the Justice Department suddenly intervened and announced that it would withdraw the recommendation in favor of a lighter sentence, a highly irregular move. Stone was convicted in November on seven counts, including witness tampering and making false statements, in a case that grew out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. Trump also tweeted angrily about the proposed sentence. “This is a horrible and very unfair situation,” he wrote. “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Later, at the White House, Trump asserted an “absolute right” to intervene with the Department of Justice and called the prosecution of Stone “an insult to our country,” before saying he “had not been involved with it at all.”