US President Donald Trump triumphantly held up copies of two newspapers with banner "ACQUITTED!" on Thursday as he took the stage at the National Prayer Breakfast a day after avoiding becoming the first president ever removed from office by the Senate.
Trump later lashed at the opponents in his speech at the White House.
Trump appeared in good spirits at the annual Washington event, which was also attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who led the impeachment charge against the Republican president.
In his first public comments since being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, he said he had been "put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people."
"I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong," Trump said in an apparent allusion to Senator Mitt Romney, the sole Republican who voted to convict the president. Romney cited his faith in explaining his vote on the Senate floor Wednesday.
"Nor do I like people who say 'I pray for you' when they know that's not so," said Trump, in a clear reference to his chief Democratic antagonist, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who on several occasions said she prays for the president.
He added, "So many people have been hurt and we can't let that go on and I'll be discussing that a little bit later at the White House."
White House speech
Later Trump, facing a bruising re-election campaign and possible further investigations in Congress, celebrated his acquittal on impeachment charges in a speech 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 White House, Trump re-aired old grievances and accused Democrats of staging a "corrupt" effort to undermine his presidency.
"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."
'It was evil'
Trump, speaking to a room full of supporters at the White House, declared the impeachment proceedings a "disgrace" and complained anew that it was "a very unfair situation," echoing his broadsides hours earlier that stunned the crowd at an annual prayer breakfast.
“It was evil, it was corrupt," Trump declared at the White House.
“This should never ever happen to another president, ever.”
“We went through hell, unfairly. We did nothing wrong," he continued.
Trump vented about his grievances against the impeachment process and ticked off names of the “vicious and mean" people he felt had wronged him: House Speaker Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and former FBI Director James Comey.
But then he revelled in the verdict delivered by the GOP-controlled Senate the day before.
“Now we have that gorgeous word. I never thought it would sound so good," Trump said.
As Trump spoke, nearly every inch of the White House' East Room was packed with supporters.
Among them: Republican senators who cast some of the votes to acquit him, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. Chuck Grassley, several Cabinet members, including Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and staunch House allies including Reps. Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Going one by one, Trump spent nearly a half-hour in rambling remarks saluting GOP lawmakers who backed him both in the Capitol and on television.
He declared that the Republican Party has never been more unified and that the momentum from the acquittal would carry him to reelection this November. But he also predicted that he may have to fend off another impeachment challenge, perhaps for something as trivial as jaywalking.
“We’ll probably have to do it again because these people have gone stone-cold crazy," the president said.
Trump emboldened by verdict
With the gavel banging down to end the impeachment drama, Trump is barreling ahead in his re-election fight with a united Republican Party behind him. And he's emboldened by reassuring poll numbers and chaos in the Democratic race to replace him.
Republican senators voted largely in lockstep to acquit Trump, relying on a multitude of rationales for keeping him in office: He’s guilty, but his conduct wasn't impeachable; his July telephone conversation with Ukraine's president was a “perfect call”; there’s an election in 10 months and it's up to voters to determine his fate.
For Trump, there was one overriding message to draw from his acquittal: Even at a time of maximum political peril, it's his Republican Party.
Trump avoided talk of impeachment in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. By the next day, he was already moving to use impeachment as a 2020 rallying cry.
Trump tweeted after the Senate vote that he would mark his acquittal with a statement at noon on Thursday to "discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!" The president's supporters were being invited to join him in the East Room.
The president and his allies sent giddy tweets needling his accusers and Democrats. In his first message, once the trial closed, Trump posted an animated video using a Time magazine cover to suggest he would remain in office "4EVA."
At the prayer breakfast, Pelosi, who had torn up the text of Trump's State of the Union speech after his address, gave brief remarks. Trump did not acknowledge her.
Democrats handed some more good news to Trump.
The Iowa caucuses, the nation's first presidential nominating contest, was thrown into disarray by a tabulating mishap. That deprived any candidate of a clear victory and allowed Trump to paint the Democrats as incompetent and corrupt.
Party values in test
Trump's tenuous relationship with the GOP establishment has been a consistent theme of his political life in recent years, and he has repeatedly put the party's values to the test.
Still, most Republicans have grudgingly stuck with him, through the revelations of the "Access Hollywood" tape, in which he was heard boasting about sexually assaulting women, and Charlottesville, where he defended white supremacists during a racial clash in the Virginia college town, as well as Helsinki, where he sided with Russia's Vladimir Putin over US intelligence agencies about Moscow's 2016 election interference.
Now, they are giving him the victory he's been waiting for and latching their fates to his like never before.