Jurisprudence

Trump’s Friday Night Massacre Was Only the Beginning

Nancy Pelosi stands in front of an American flag.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol on Tuesday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Friday, President Donald Trump began a spree of vengeance against officials who testified before Congress during the impeachment inquiry. The firing of two witnesses, National Security Council adviser Alex Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland—and Vindman’s brother Yevgeny, an NSC lawyer—was foreshadowed the day before, when Trump held what he described as an acquittal “celebration” in the East Room of the White House with his closest Republican supporters and issued a series of warning shots to the “very evil and sick” people he blamed for impeachment.

Multiple Republican senators acknowledged Trump used the powers of the presidency to inappropriately target his political opponents before they voted to acquit him. In doing so, they’ve effectively given Trump permission to continue to abuse his office. The Friday Night Massacre is just the beginning. Attorney General William Barr announced last week that investigations of political campaigns will now require his personal approval, opening the door for all sorts of chicanery.

Trump went on the attack in his nationally televised East Room performance. His speech, along with public reporting around the final days of impeachment, offers a road map of who the president’s perceived enemies are and what he might try to do to them. Here are some of the people who might need to watch their backs:

James Comey

Trump went after his “sleazebag” former FBI director very early on in his speech on Thursday. “It was evil, it was corrupt, it was dirty cops, it was leakers, and liars,” Trump said. “Had I not fired James Comey, who was a disaster by the way, it’s possible I wouldn’t even be standing here right now. We caught him in the act. Dirty cops, bad people.” What did Trump want done to Comey? He had some suggestions: “If this happened to President Obama, a lot of people would have been in jail for a long time already,” Trump said. “Many, many years.” Previous efforts to target Comey for leaks failed spectacularly, but Barr’s heavily politicized Department of Justice has kept Comey on its radar. Last month the New York Times reported that the DOJ was looking into a 2017 leak surrounding Comey’s investigation of Hillary Clinton and apparently focusing on Comey’s possible involvement. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted out a video of a political ally calling on the president to appoint a special counsel to investigate his political enemies, including top FBI officials.

Comey’s Crossfire Hurricane Lieutenants

If it appears too politically toxic for Trump to target Comey, Barr’s DOJ might have an easier time going after his associates: the officials who worked on the 2016 Crossfire Hurricane investigation into members of Trump’s campaign. In discussing investigations of former FBI officials Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Andrew McCabe, Trump hinted in his East Room speech that further action might be forthcoming for the “top scum” at the FBI. “Let’s see what happens,” he said. “Let’s see what happens. It’s in the hands of some very talented people.” This “very talented people” remark may refer to the investigation by federal prosecutor John Durham, which is being closely supervised by Barr. Both Barr and Durham said they disagreed with DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who concluded in December that there was no evidence that “political bias or improper motivation influenced” the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Conservative politicians and pundits in the past few days have been calling for multiple “prosecutions” from the Durham investigation. Already, a lower-level attorney who provided misleading information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get a warrant for a former Trump campaign adviser is facing possible criminal charges. It’s unclear who else might be charged with what, but last week House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said that multiple former officials should face prison for their roles in Crossfire Hurricane. “People ought to go to jail,” the Louisiana Republican told Sean Hannity. “I have seen some classified information I can’t go into—but I can say this: Hopefully, Durham names names. I think the attorney general is waiting to see what comes out of that. And then, hopefully, they go after those people and put them in jail.”

Robert Mueller

In his Thursday rant, Trump accused former special counsel Robert Mueller of having “illegally deleted” emails and texts from Strzok and Page that Mueller uncovered in his investigation of inappropriate messages between the two former top Crossfire Hurricane officials. The accusation that Mueller broke the law and deleted these messages is a convoluted Trump conspiracy theory, but the upshot is that it has no factual basis. It does, though, speak to Trump’s continued obsession with Mueller and his probe. The easiest way for Trump to get revenge here would be to undo the effects of the special counsel’s inquiry. The president may simply pardon the former Trump campaign officials Mueller brought to justice, such as convicted felons Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that a proposed seven- to nine-year prison sentence for Stone was “a horrible and very unfair situation,” that “the real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them,” and that he “cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” By midday Tuesday, an anonymous DOJ official told reporters the department was planning to change the initial sentencing recommendation, which the DOJ official described as “extreme, excessive and grossly disproportionate.”

Ukraine Whistleblowers

Many of the officials who testified about Trump’s Ukraine abuses have already faced reprisals or left their jobs. Still, Trump allies have called for full investigations into those who blew the whistle on the president, including the still-unnamed whistleblower. Sen. Rand Paul called for an inquiry into the whistleblower and his sources, going so far as to name someone alleged to be the whistleblower on the Senate floor. “If six people who all worked together at the National Security Council knew each other and gamed the system knowing they would get these protections, they gamed the system in order to try to bring down the president, we should know about that,” Paul said. Trump has previously suggested that these people committed treason and should be executed.

John Bolton

Trump did not mention Bolton in his Thursday speech, but Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported last week that Trump had an “enemies list that is growing by the day” and that Bolton was “at the top.” Bolton has drawn Trump’s ire after it was reported by the New York Times during the impeachment trial that Bolton was prepared to testify that Trump had withheld Ukraine funding as part of a quid pro quo scheme to force Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. While Trump’s National Security Agency has already said it is planning to block publication of Bolton’s book because of classification issues—for portions that Bolton’s attorney says have no plausible basis for classification—it sounds like Trump wants more done to Bolton. Sherman reported “that Trump wants Bolton to be criminally investigated” for allegedly having “mishandled classified information” and “abused his position at the National Security Council.”

Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, and Congressional Democrats

Of his congressional foes, Trump has reserved particular ire for lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. “Adam Schiff is a vicious, horrible person,” he said in his East Room speech. “Nancy Pelosi is a horrible person.” Trump’s allies have raised ethics complaints against both Schiff and Pelosi: Congressional Republicans have targeted Pelosi for ripping up the president’s State of the Union speech, and the conservative group Judicial Watch has filed a pair of ethics complaints against Schiff for alleged misconduct in the Ukraine affair. (The allegation has no basis.) At Monday’s Trump rally in New Hampshire, the crowd chanted “lock her up” when Pelosi was mentioned. Meanwhile, Paul and others have called for Schiff’s staff to be investigated.

Mitt Romney

Trump has been attacking Romney ever since he voted in favor of convicting the president of abuse of power. “The only one that voted against was the guy that can’t stand the fact that he ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of the presidency,” Trump said of Romney at his East Room acquittal celebration. Donald Trump Jr. has called for the 2012 Republican Party presidential standard-bearer’s expulsion from the GOP. Romney is not up for reelection in Utah for another four years, he is independently extraordinarily wealthy, and he is of retirement age. It’s unclear what punishment Trump might mete out that could actually hurt Romney, but the Louisiana GOP has censured Romney, and a similar proposal is reportedly under consideration by the Utah Republican Party.

Joe and Hunter Biden

Trump’s extortion effort against Ukraine was focused on pushing for investigations of both Bidens when the former vice president was considered a top political rival. Now that Biden is tanking in the Democratic primary, it seems like Trump’s need to attack this father and son has been limited. Still, Senate allies have begun their own investigations of the Bidens, and the DOJ announced this week it was accepting information on the Bidens from sources like the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. On Monday the Washington Post reported that Scott W. Brady, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, was looking into these Ukraine materials. Perhaps in order to maintain the fiction that Trump did nothing wrong in the Ukraine affair, Trump and his allies will need to carry on their ongoing efforts to frame Joe Biden.