Trump unleashed: President moves with a free hand post-impeachment

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE is moving swiftly to clear his administration of perceived foes and fill it with loyalists, a sign he’s trying to consolidate power post-impeachment as he heads into the reelection fight.

Trump appears emboldened by his acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate, ousting individuals from his White House and administration whom he believes crossed him during impeachment. This includes Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanEsper: If my replacement is 'a real yes man' then 'God help us' Ukrainian president whose call with Trump sparked impeachment congratulates Biden Alexander Vindman congratulates Biden, Harris on election victory MORE, who the Army secretary said Friday, was not under investigation after Trump hinted he may face further disciplinary action after he was dismissed from his White House post and sent back to the Pentagon early.

While some Republicans hoped the president would be chastened by the impeachment proceedings, the opposite has proven true.


He has expressed no remorse over his actions, instead seeking to strengthen his hold over the executive branch.

This week he waded into the fight over a sentencing recommendation for longtime associate Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneWashington braces for unpredictable post-election period Like it or not, a Trump self-pardon may be coming soon This election is headed to the courts, but Democrats have lawyers too MORE, criticizing the career Justice Department prosecutors who worked on the case and the judge assigned to the trial. The commentary prompted a rare rebuke from Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Merrick Garland on list to be Biden's attorney general: report DOJ dropping charges against ex-Mexican defense minister MORE, one of his most prominent and trusted Cabinet members.

Asked what he learned from impeachment, Trump told reporters Wednesday his takeaway was that “the Democrats are crooked. … That they're vicious. That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment.”

His comments dashed the hopes of Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (R-Maine) and others who had expressed optimism that Trump would have gleaned from impeachment that his behavior was at times inappropriate and needed to change.

“The acquittal liberated Donald Trump,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye. “It’s one of the reasons I thought censure was a better maneuver for Democrats.”

Trump’s acquittal has turned over a new leaf for the president. The impeachment process further underscored his wariness of the government bureaucracy outside his inner circle.


The president moved quickly to shake up his staff in the aftermath of impeachment. He pushed out Vindman from his post on the National Security Council and fired U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Top Democrat slams Trump's new EU envoy: Not 'a political donor's part-time job' Trump names new EU envoy, filling post left vacant by impeachment witness Sondland MORE, a $1 million donor to Trump’s inauguration.

Democrats viewed those two ousters as retaliation for providing damaging testimony in the impeachment inquiry against White House orders. Their exits followed voluntary departures by a handful of other witnesses, including former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchWhy it's time for a majority female Cabinet Giuliani associate Correia pleads guilty to making false statements Teenager who filmed George Floyd's death to be honored MORE and diplomat William Taylor.

At political rallies, Trump often rails against the “swamp” and the “deep state,” feeding into conservative conspiracy theories that factions in the government are working to undermine him.

Trump and his advisers have suggested that more individuals could be shown the door. The president tweeted cryptically Thursday morning, “DRAIN THE SWAMP! We want bad people out of our government!”

“We have people certainly in this administration that are probably holdovers and also people who don’t believe in President Trump’s agenda,” White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Lara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report Press: Where is Jim Baker when we need him? MORE said this week on “Fox & Friends.”

National security adviser Robert O’Brien, meanwhile, has long planned to significantly reduce staff at the National Security Council inside the White House, saying this week he expected the staff to be reduced to 115 to 120 individuals, down from close to 180, in the coming weeks.

O’Brien framed the ousters of Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny, both of whom were detailed to the White House and have been sent back to the Pentagon, as part of the broader effort to reorganize and scale back the council. He disputed widespread suspicions that Trump forced the Vindmans out as part of a retaliatory purge.

“We are not a country where a group of lieutenant colonels can get together and dictate what the policy of the United States is,” O’Brien said at an Atlantic Council event on Tuesday.

“The policy of the United States is formulated and decided by an elected president of the United States. We’re not some banana republic,” he continued, later clarifying that he was not asserting that the Vindmans specifically were trying to dictate U.S. policy.

The president further sought to eliminate dissent within the West Wing this week by bringing back two of his most loyal longtime advisers.

Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration President says Trump Jr. doing 'very well' after COVID-19 diagnosis Donald Trump Jr. tests positive for COVID-19 MORE will return next month for a second stint at the White House, where she will serve as a counselor to the president working alongside senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerPompeo becomes first top US diplomat to visit Israeli settlement, labels boycotts anti-Semitic NYT's Bruni suggests Ivanka Trump, Kushner move to North Korea or Saudi Arabia With Biden, a Saudi reboot MORE. Hicks previously worked on the Trump campaign and served as communications director prior to her February 2018 resignation.

John McEnteeJohn (Johnny) David McEnteeBiden rolls out new members of White House senior staff GOP lawmaker: Trump implementing a 'loyalty purge' amid firing of top cybersecurity official Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE, who spent about a year as Trump’s personal assistant before being dismissed based on security clearance concerns, has been elevated to oversee the Presidential Personnel Office. The shift gives McEntee significant influence over the vetting and appointment process for scores of executive branch positions.


“All great shows have a reunion episode, and it looks like the reunion is starting a little sooner than maybe expected,” said Bryan Lanza, an official who worked on the president’s transition team.

Taken together, the new roles for Hicks and McEntee show the president’s effort to remake the West Wing into an outfit of loyalists. Trump has long been weary of leakers and “Never Trumpers” undermining his agenda and has steadily jettisoned career officials over the last three years whose views differed from his own.

O'Brien is less outspoken than his predecessor, John BoltonJohn BoltonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Bolton calls on GOP leadership to label Trump's behavior 'inexcusable' MORE, giving Trump more freedom to pursue his agenda on national security. McEntee overseeing the personnel office could lead to Trump installing even more loyalists across White House agencies. And Trump's fiery and at times vindictive response to impeachment is a warning shot against further internal criticism if he wades into controversies like the Stone case.

One former adviser said the staffing changes are an indication Trump is ready to govern using his instincts, much in the same way he campaigned in 2016, and officials have not ruled out the possibility of further changes in the coming weeks.

“The president is an outsider and he’s never been comfortable with Washington and Washington has never been comfortable with him. There is great distrust on both sides. He’s endured what he feels were multiple attempts to weaponize the government against him,” said one former White House official.

“So the people who you do know and trust become extremely valuable,” the person said.

“I think he’s really reeling from these experiences and wants people around him that he feels he can count on.”