While the Democratic presidential candidates held a slugfest of a debate 300 miles away in Las Vegas, President Donald Trump was in Phoenix Wednesday night for a rally that doubled as a diatribe against law enforcement and intelligence community officials whom he believes have wronged him.
The rally was Trump’s second following his impeachment acquittal earlier this month and the first of three scheduled during his trip to Nevada, Arizona, and California. He devoted a lot of energy to attacking former leaders of the FBI, whom he smeared as “dishonest scum.”
“We can never let them get away with that,” Trump added, lamenting that because of the Russia investigation and impeachment inquiry, “crooked politicians” have “really taken away three years away” from his presidency.
Trump calls former FBI leadership "dishonest scum," suggests they should be punished for what they did to him, then adds, "we can never let them get away with that." pic.twitter.com/vJ0NvZJfpV— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 20, 2020
The rally took place just hours before Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone is scheduled to be sentenced on seven felony charges that were brought by prosecutors working with then-special counsel Robert Mueller, including perjury and obstruction of the investigation into Trump’s campaign dealings with Russia.
Considering that context, the most ironic moment of Trump’s Phoenix rally came when he brought up Hillary Clinton then nodded and smiled as his fans erupted in the usual refrain of “lock her up!”
Trump brings up Hillary Clinton then nods and gives a thumbs up as his Phoenix crowd chants "lock her up!" pic.twitter.com/6yDzvAaIP5— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 20, 2020
Despite the backdrop of Trump’s ongoing interference with the Department of Justice, the president also devoted part of his rally to attacking the Barack Obama-era DOJ for supposedly trying to tip the scales for Hillary Clinton back in 2016.
“What do you think he was doing with the attorney general?” Trump said, alluding to a brief 2016 meeting on an Arizona airport tarmac between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton that spawned conspiracy theories about the subsequent decision to not prosecute Hillary Clinton for her emails. “Remember, he said, ‘Ah, I just happened to see! I was here to play golf. It was 120 degrees out!’ I don’t know. A lot of crooked stuff went on.
“Can’t let it happen, folks!” Trump yelled.
One week after publicly interfering in the sentencing of his longtime aide and buddy Roger Stone, Trump pushes conspiracy theories about the infamous Bill Clinton-Loretta Lynch tarmac meeting pic.twitter.com/2ATNe3gx3A— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 20, 2020
The reality, however, is that following his impeachment acquittal, Trump has been more brazen about inserting himself into the Justice Department than ever — including in Stone’s case.
Last week, Trump posted angry tweets about prosecutors’ original seven- to nine-year sentencing recommendation for Stone, which was followed by Attorney General Bill Barr lowering the recommendation — an abrupt change of course that prompted all the prosecutors working the case to quit. Barr publicly criticized Trump’s tweets interfering in the case, but the president disregarded his AG’s input by posting more tweets calling for Stone to receive a new trial on Tuesday.
That same day, Trump pardoned or granted commutations of nine former public figures or billionaires who were convicted of corruption-related crimes — a move seemingly aimed at dismissing the sort of obstruction of justice and financial wrongdoing he’s been implicated in as well as laying the groundwork for pardoning or commuting the sentence of Stone.
Indeed, on Thursday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, Andrew Napolitano, a senior judicial analyst at Fox News, said he thinks Trump “might pardon Stone today” following his sentencing.
The rest of the Phoenix rally was normal stuff from a deeply abnormal president
Trump pushed easily debunkable lies to inflate his record of accomplishments and sensationalized crime stories in an effort to demonize undocumented immigrants. He misled people about his health care record and tried to undermine the democratic process by preemptively circulating conspiracy theories about the Nevada Democratic caucuses, which are scheduled for Saturday.
“I hear that in Nevada — I’m hearing bad things about their vote count,” Trump said, citing no evidence. “I’m hearing a lot of bad things are happening, like they don’t know what the hell they are doing.”
"I hear that in Nevada -- I'm hearing bad things about their vote count. I'm hearing a lot of bad things are happening, like they don't know what the hell they are doing" -- Trump preemptively pushes conspiracy theories about the Nevada Democratic caucuses pic.twitter.com/5JWa71sX4j— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 20, 2020
All this would have been headline news coming from the mouth of previous presidents. But for Trump, it was a relatively low-key night in the desert.