WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump celebrated his acquittal on impeachment charges in a caustic, free-wheeling speech on Thursday that drew on White House pomp to underscore the fact that he remained in office.
After walking down a red carpet to a standing ovation from scores of Republican lawmakers, administration officials and conservative media figures in the East Room of the White House, Trump re-aired old grievances and accused Democrats of staging a “corrupt” effort to undermine his presidency in a speech lasting more than an hour.
“I’ve done things wrong in my life, I will admit … but this is what the end result is,” Trump said, holding up a copy of the Washington Post with the headline “Trump acquitted.”
The Republican president then handed the newspaper to his wife, Melania, and said maybe they would frame it.
Speaking without a teleprompter, he referred to the 22-month investigation by former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller into his 2016 election campaign’s possible contacts with Russia, using a profanity.
“It was all bullshit,” he said.
The Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday voted to acquit Trump on charges brought by the Democratic-led House of Representatives, only the third time in U.S. history that a president has been impeached.
The acquittal was Trump’s biggest victory yet over his foes in Congress, who had attacked Senate Republicans for refusing to call witnesses or seek new evidence at the trial.
Earlier on Thursday, Trump, who has strong support from evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics, faulted some of his opponents for invoking their religious faith during the impeachment battle.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who launched the impeachment inquiry in September, said in December that she does not hate Trump and that she prays for him. Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a Mormon, cited his religious faith when he voted to convict Trump on a charge of abuse of power on Wednesday. Romney was the only Republican to vote for conviction. No Democrat voted to acquit.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so,” Trump said at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.
He referred to the issue again in the East Room: “I doubt she (Pelosi) prays at all.”
Pelosi had said that Trump’s comments at the historically bipartisan breakfast, which she also attended, were inappropriate.
“He’s talking about things he knows little about – faith and prayer,” she told a news conference.
In addition to multiple references to Pelosi, Trump called former FBI Director James Comey a “sleazebag” and Representative Adam Schiff, the House Democrat who spearheaded the impeachment drive, a “vicious, horrible person,” while thanking dozens of Republican lawmakers by name, working alphabetically from a list.
He also reprised his attacks on 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The partisan tenor of the speech, which was interrupted several times by thunderous applause and laughter from the audience, did not bode well for the already sharply divided mood in Washington, especially in an election year.
Trump is running for re-election in November.
Senate Republicans voted to acquit Trump of abuse of power for pressing Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender to be the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 3 election, and of obstructing a congressional investigation of the matter.
Democrats were unclear about their next steps in investigating Trump. There are several pending court cases related to Democratic efforts to get more information from Trump, and Pelosi issued a statement saying the House would protect the Constitution “both in the courts of law and in the court of public opinion.”
Democrats have suggested they might subpoena John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, to testify to House committees. Senate Republicans rejected Democratic efforts to subpoena Bolton to testify during the trial.
Democrats have expressed concern an acquittal would encourage a president who already challenges political norms, painting him as a threat to U.S. democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly.
Eleven Democrats are vying for the right to challenge Trump in November, but Trump heads into the campaign with the advantages of a powerful fundraising machine and near universal support from Republicans.
Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process, as his core conservative supporters – especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics – stuck with him.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, showed 42% of American adults approved of his performance, while 54% disapproved. That was nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and disapproval at 53%.
Reporting by Richard Cowan, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Writing by John Whitesides, Paul Simao and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Paul Simao