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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report 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 VindmanDuckworth to block military confirmations until Esper proves Vindman will be promoted Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Trump pick for pandemic response watchdog pledges independence amid Democratic skepticism 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.

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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 StoneJudge gives Stone an extra 14 days to report to prison DOJ denies giving Stone special treatment over prison sentence delay Barr denies pattern of upholding Trump's interests, blames 'media narrative' 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 BarrJustice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Ousted Manhattan US Attorney Berman to testify before House next week ACLU lawsuit calls on Barr to delay federal execution 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 CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Senate passes extension of application deadline for PPP small-business loans 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.

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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 SondlandTop 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 Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans are prioritizing big chains in coronavirus relief  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 YovanovitchCheney clashes with Trump Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Bolton book puts spotlight on Pompeo-Trump relationship 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 ConwayLincoln Project hits Trump over Russian bounties Obama said Trump's use of term 'kung flu' 'shocks and pisses me off': report New Lincoln Project ad slams Trump over deaths of 'Greatest Generation' members from COVID-19 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 HicksCuomo turned down Trump invitation to participate in April press briefing: report Trump shakes up White House communications team Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges 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 KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks Mueller investigation witness George Nader sentenced to a decade in prison in child sex case Trump World boils over as campaign hits skids MORE. Hicks previously worked on the Trump campaign and served as communications director prior to her February 2018 resignation.

John McEnteeJohn (Johnny) David McEnteeOPM chief abruptly resigns Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges Trump administration hires another college senior for key role 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.

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“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 BoltonTrump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Bolton book sells 780,000 copies in first week, set to surpass 1M copies printed Bolton says he would have personally briefed Trump on Russian bounties 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.”