Dennis Lythgoe: Did Trump really ‘learn his lesson’?

(Susan Walsh | AP) National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

Following the acquittal of impeached President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, insisted that the president “had learned his lesson.”

When he was asked by reporters what he had learned, Trump said, “That the Democrats are crooked and vicious!” Indeed, the remarkably vengeful president retaliated the very next day.

Trump quickly washed his hands of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, a recipient of the Purple Heart and a distinguished member of the National Security Council. Trump angrily fired Vindman, a highly convincing impeachment witness, as well as his twin brother, Yevgeny, a lawyer with the NSC, who was not a witness. The two men were quickly marched out of the White House.

Vindman’s “crime” was telling the truth about Trump’s so-called “perfect” phone call to the Ukrainian President, to request a favor (investigate the Bidens) in return for promised military aide.

Even though Vindman’s testimony closely tracked the written record released by the White House, Trump said, “He reported very inaccurate things.” He smugly added, “We sent him on his way — and the military can handle him any way they want — and his brother also.”

The action was reminiscent of how the Cosa Nostra settles family matters. (Why not also punish his brother?)

Vindman, a patriot and Soviet expert, came to America as a child, then served his new country as a soldier. He believed he would not face reprisals “because this is America…here, right matters.”

Vindman is a much-admired asset of the U.S. Army, so he will undoubtedly serve again in a key slot, according to a confident Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star General.

It is safe to assume that each one of the other 17 witnesses who testified in the impeachment hearings will face similarly grisly treatment. Among them is Marie Yovanovitch, a highly-respected career diplomat, who was ousted from her position in Ukraine after 33 years in the Foreign Service. Yovanovitch was slandered and recalled after her prodigious efforts to fight corruption made it difficult for Trump to inflict his desires on the Ukrainian President.

The equally impressive career diplomat, Bill Taylor, took her place, but he offered testimony acutely embarrassing to Trump. So Taylor had to go, too.

Trump’s inexcusable behavior was markedly unlike that of an earlier president, Bill Clinton, who was impeached in 1999. Clinton, a Democrat, was mortified by the unveiling of his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. He initially denied it, but was sobered by the proceedings, so his reaction to acquittal was self-effacing.

He said he was “profoundly sorry” for what he did and said – and for “the great burden” his behavior “imposed on the Congress and the American people.” He pledged “reconciliation and renewal.”

Trump’s determination to exact a pound of flesh for what witnesses did to him is a huge contrast to Clinton’s chastened approach. In fact, the second half of Trump’s temper tantrum focuses on his friends who have been convicted as part of the Mueller probe into the Russians’ interference into the 2016 Election.

Roger Stone, Trump’s bosom buddy for 40 years, has been convicted of obstructing justice, lying to Congress and threatening a witness with bodily harm.

Stone’s sentencing was halted when Willliam Barr, Trump’s slavish attorney general, said that the prosecutors’ projected sentence for Stone of seven to nine years was “too harsh.” The president said it was “horrible and very unfair.” In response, all four prosecutors on the case resigned, and then Barr took over the case.

Such interference by the president and his attorney general into U.S. judicial proceedings is unprecedented.

Trump’s need to protect Mike Flynn, his former national security assistant, from a “harsh” a sentence will also be handled by Barr, who will guarantee that Flynn’s prison stay is suitably light. Then Trump could relinquish his temptation to pardon each of his lackeys.

At the same time, the Democrats should “get religion” and award their 2020 nomination to someone with the ability to retire this dictator to a banana republic.

Dennis Lythgoe

Dennis Lythgoe, Salt Lake City, is a professor emeritus of history, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Mass.