Moments before the House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachment against former President Bill Clinton on Dec. 11, 1998, the president gave a speech in the Rose Garden to address the fractured country.
Clinton’s speech began:
“As anyone close to me knows, for months I have been grappling with how best to reconcile myself to the American people, to acknowledge my own wrongdoing and still to maintain my focus on the work of the presidency.”
Spending just more than four minutes at the dais, he added:
“What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds.
I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame. I have been condemned by my accusers with harsh words.
And while it’s hard to hear yourself called deceitful and manipulative, I remember Ben Franklin’s admonition that our critics are our friends, for they do show us our faults.”
In contrast, President Donald J. Trump, who was acquitted in the U.S. Senate Wednesday on two articles of impeachment, gave a televised East Room speech Thursday morning that spanned more than an hour. In that time, he used incendiary words, including “bullshit,” “evil,” “crying Chuck,” “sleaze bag,” “dirty cops” and “top scum.”
Trump apologized only to his family for being put through a “dirty, rotten ordeal” and to the state of Utah. Speaking to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), he said:
“Say hi to the people of Utah and tell them I’m sorry about Mitt Romney.”
The negative reference to Romney, a Republican senator from Utah, came on the heels of Romney’s surprising break with party in his historic vote to convict the president of the first article: abuse of power. In an emotional speech given to a small audience on the Senate floor prior to the formal vote, Romney explained his decision despite his support for much of what Trump seeks to accomplish in office.
“But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”
Romney, who Trump criticized Thursday for losing his presidential race against Barack Obama, continued:
“We’ve come to different conclusions fellow senators, but I trust we have all followed the dictates of our conscience.
I acknowledge that my verdict will not remove the president from office. The results of this Senate court will, in fact, be appealed to a higher court, the judgment of the American people.”
Trump’s speech Thursday avoided attempts to unify the country as most presidents from both parties have historically done in turbulent times. The unscripted and rambling speech was delivered to a room full of just Republican supporters, immediately following a bipartisan prayer breakfast. His message was alarmingly vitriolic toward Democrats and self-celebratory less than 24 hours after what he called a “total acquittal.”
He took time to individually thank his supporters in the room, which he referred to as “warriors,” with special attention and praise paid to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Insults, exaggerated or false claims and rally-style rhetoric were intertwined with talk about baseball, wrestlers, “tough” guys and an oddly breathy Lisa Page and Peter Strzok text exchange dramatic reenactment.
“(Democrats) have horrible policies. They have open borders, sanctuary cities, raise taxes. They want to take away everybody’s health care.”
“Instead of wanting to heal our country, I think they want to destroy our country.”
At one point, he claimed that “incredible” things could be done if the two parties worked together. However, he failed to mention the approximate 400 bills the House has passed that have yet to be brought up for a floor vote by McConnell. Several of those bills were passed with bipartisan support and address issues like prescription drug cost, veteran care and infrastructure, all of which the president says he wants to improve.
The impeachment trial ended as anticipated, with GOP members of the Senate acquitting the president on both articles, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Trump called “evil and sick,” rebukes the president’s claim of “total acquittal.” Pelosi exacerbated Trump’s ire against her Tuesday night when immediately after the State of the Union address, she ripped his speech in half.
In a press statement issued after Wednesday’s Senate vote, Pelosi said:
“President Trump was impeached with the support of a majority of the American people – a first in our nation’s history. And now he is the first President in history to face a bipartisan vote to convict him in the Senate. A full 75 percent of Americans and many members of the GOP Senate believe the President’s behavior is wrong. But the Senate chose instead to ignore the facts, the will of the American people and their duty to the Constitution.
“The President will boast that he has been acquitted. There can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence. By suppressing the evidence and rejecting the most basic elements of a fair judicial process, the Republican Senate made themselves willing accomplices to the President’s cover-up.”
It is unclear at this point whether Congress will pursue additional evidence in the Ukraine-related charges levied against Trump in his impeachment. Sen. Jerry Nadler has indicated that former National Security Advisor John Bolton may still be subpoenaed to provide testimony.
Notably, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr issued Department of Justice guidance Wednesday that requires any further FBI investigation into 2020 presidential candidates or campaigns be approved by him directly.
Trump held to his claim of innocence in Thursday’s speech, repeating that his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect” and that withholding of military aid was prompted by a desire to root out corruption and pressure other countries into contributing more toward Ukraine’s battle against a Russian invasion.
No Republican senators aside from Romney voted to convict the president, but more than a few — Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio — made public statements of disappointment in the president’s behavior and admission of his guilt, though they still voted for acquittal.
Unlike Clinton, the only other living impeached president, Trump has not acknowledged any wrongdoing and instead opts to attack those who either investigated him or who did not stick with “the team,” as Romney referenced.
Clinton’s speech on that December day in 1998 was purposefully humble and at least publicly remorseful. He said:
“Like anyone who honestly faces the shame of wrongful conduct, I would give anything to go back and undo what I did. … Meanwhile, I will continue to do all I can to reclaim the trust of the American people and to serve them well.”
The glaringly divisive speech Trump made Thursday gave no weight to the allegations nor offered any apology to the people.