It’s time to stop asking whether President Donald Trump will learn lessons from the controversies he constantly stokes — of course he does.
But far from stepping back or opting for contrition as his critics and appeasers hope, Trump draws darker political conclusions.
The result is that he expands his own power by confounding institutional restraints and opening a zone of presidential impunity — while at the same time delighting his political base.
Trump’s interference in the sentencing of his long-time associate Roger Stone and a post-impeachment retribution splurge reflect a lifetime’s lessons of a real estate baron turned public servant.
On Wednesday, Trump publicly praised the Justice Department for reversing its call for a stiff jail term for Stone after his own critical late night tweet that laid bare fears of blatant interference in bedrock US justice.
“I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing. And I didn’t speak to them by the way, just so you understand. They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing,” the President told reporters.
He noted that the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case “hit the road,” raising the prospect that their protests failed to introduce accountability to the administration and only served to further hollow out the government and make it more pliable to the President.
Trump denied that he crossed a line. But his tweet left no doubt about what he wanted to happen. And his strategy, in this case and others, actually worked.
Just as he used US government power to smear Joe Biden in the Ukraine scandal, he succeeded in getting favorable treatment for a friend in the Stone case — though the final sentence will be up to a judge.
The Stone affair has also added to evidence that Attorney General William Barr is acting more as the President’s personal lawyer and less to ensure the neutral administration of justice.
Trump’s brazen approach was on also display Wednesday when he was asked what he learned from impeachment — after several GOP senators said they hoped he would take lessons to be restrained.
“That the Democrats are crooked, they got a lot of crooked things going. That they’re vicious, that they shouldn’t have brought impeachment,” Trump told reporters.
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