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Cottle: Vengeance is mine, saith the president

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John Bolton, Joe Manchin, Adam Schiff, Hunter Biden, Doug Jones, Gordon Sondland, Alexander Vindman, Yevgeny Vindman, Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Jerry Nadler, Debbie Dingell, New York air travelers, federal prosecutors, the FBI. It has been barely a week since Senate Republicans acquitted President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial — assuring him once and for all that he needn’t fret about congressional accountability — but he has already made significant progress on his enemies list.

Members of Congress, administration officials, law enforcement officials, residents of blue states — anyone who has ever displeased Trump is a potential target. Heads may not wind up on literal pikes, but the president is already neck-deep into his reprisal tour.

The president’s targets can be sorted into multiple different categories, some better equipped than others to endure his wrath. Democratic senators such as Jones of Alabama and Manchin of West Virginia, both of whom have drawn Trumpian ire for their votes to convict the president, understand that politics is a blood sport. Ditto House members like Dingell, whom Trump randomly attacked again over the weekend, and Schiff, who was the point person on impeachment. These professionals know how to brush off — or brush back — the taunts.

After a particularly childish screed, in which Trump called Manchin “Joe Munchkin,” the West Virginia lawmaker returned fire Monday on CNN: “I guess he’s confused on that, because I am a little bigger than him. He’s got me about 30 pounds on weight. But I am a little taller than him.”

And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, can certainly hold her own against a presidential tantrum.

Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump of abuse of power, is more exposed. It’s not just the president mocking him and denigrating his religious faith. The White House also blasted out nasty talking points for surrogates to disseminate. Title: “Romney (Once Again) Ditches Principles to Seek Far Left’s Adulation.”

That said, Romney is a former presidential combatant. He knows how to take a punch. He also isn’t up for reelection until 2024, plenty of time for all this to pass. In the meantime, he’ll enjoy some brand burnishing in non-Trump circles for having followed his conscience.

Trump is also grumpy with Bolton, the former national security adviser who, the New York Times reported, wrote in his forthcoming memoir that the president told him that there was a link between Ukraine aid and the announcement of investigations of Joe Biden and his son. In addition to calling Bolton a liar, Trump has sought to block the release of his book, and there is talk of stripping him of his security clearance.

But Bolton, too, is nobody’s victim. He is a seasoned Washington knife-fighter who played his own coy game with impeachment investigators.

It’s also hard to feel too sorry for Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union whom Trump fired last week. Sondland essentially bought his diplomatic post with fat donations to Trump’s inauguration. He changed his testimony mid-impeachment, rendering him a less than exemplary witness. He is, above all, a cautionary tale for those willing to sell their souls for power and prestige.

Far more troubling is the assault on not-so-political public servants, such as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key impeachment witness. Vindman was ousted from his post on the National Security Council.

Creepier still, the president also fired Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, a lawyer at the National Security Council who was not an impeachment witness. Such gratuitous score-settling carries a whiff of the Cosa Nostra, in which talking to the feds results in one’s family being targeted — in part to send a message to other potential rats.

Trump is making perfectly clear the high cost of questioning his questionable behavior or cooperating with Congress.

Also this week, federal prosecutors are back in the president’s cross hairs. On Monday, prosecutors recommended sentencing Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime political fixer who was convicted in November on charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence, to seven to nine years behind bars. This did not sit well with the president, who was up in the wee hours on Tuesday tweeting his displeasure. “Disgraceful!” he erupted shortly before 1 a.m. Not quite an hour later, he elaborated: “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

By Tuesday afternoon, the Justice Department had dutifully announced it would revisit the “grossly disproportionate” sentencing recommendation. All four prosecutors handling the case promptly withdrew.

Far from denying Operation Vengeance, the White House has been justifying it. In the run-up to the president’s acquittal address last Thursday, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, assured Fox News viewers that he would be talking about “just how horribly he was treated and, you know, that maybe people should pay for that.”

Trump is now hard at work making that happen. And who’s to stop him?

Michelle Cottle is an editorial writer for the New York Times.

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