For Trump’s Aides, Celebratory Dinners and a Hunger for Revenge

WASHINGTON — No collusion. Let’s party.

After two years spent in a defensive crouch, the president’s aides have emerged from their emotional bunkers in celebration of what they say is a total vindication of President Trump.

That view may be based on the best possible interpretation of the letter written by Attorney General William P. Barr summarizing the conclusions of the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. But any caveats in the letter or the possibility of surprises when more of the report is released has not put a damper on the celebratory dinners at downtown Washington restaurants, the number of teamwork-focused photos posted on social media or the hugs in the White House driveway between television interviews.

“We’re colluding,” Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, told reporters as she embraced Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, in the driveway after returning from a Fox News appearance on Monday.

Inside the White House, the reaction was more low key, but aides still wanted to make their happiness known: Ms. Sanders posted, and then deleted, a celebratory Instagram photo of a scowling Mr. Trump flanked by a team of lawyers and his social media director, Dan Scavino.

Later that day, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, surfaced at one of his favorite haunts: the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Relieved by the investigation’s results, which he had framed a day earlier as “better than I expected,” a jovial Mr. Giuliani and Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, drew a crowd of supporters who waited for the opportunity to mingle.

“We feel totally and completely vindicated,” Harlan Hill, a Republican strategist and campaign advisory board member who took a thumbs-up photo with Mr. Giuliani. “It feels like a validation of the election.”

He added, “The mood from the pundit class to friends of mine that work in the White House is over-the-moon ecstasy.”

Along with wisecracks, there was a decidedly less playful theme emerging that once the party is over, the president’s perceived enemies should pay.

Mr. Hill said he shared the president’s grievances, including the suggestion that anyone involved in the Russia investigation’s origins had engaged in treasonous behavior.

“I would love for those responsible to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr. Hill said. “I’d like to see some sort of investigation.”

That mood is shared within the administration. Ms. Sanders is using her Twitter platform as press secretary to single out Mr. Trump’s “haters,” using a March Madness-style bracket to identify perceived enemies of the administration, most of them journalists, by name.

Mr. Trump, who has barely contained his anger over what he feels was a sustained personal attack in several encounters with reporters since Sunday, suggested on Tuesday that the origins of the Mueller investigation could be traced to the Obama White House, and made it clear that for him, the process had not been political but personal.

“This should never happen to a president again,” Mr. Trump said. “We can’t allow that to take place.”

On Twitter, Mr. Trump has continued his usual drumbeat against the news media, but has cast a wider net by calling all “mainstream” journalists the enemy of the people.

“The Mainstream Media is under fire and being scorned all over the World as being corrupt and FAKE,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “For two years they pushed the Russian Collusion Delusion when they always knew there was No Collusion. They truly are the Enemy of the People and the Real Opposition Party!”

In a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans at a policy lunch on Tuesday, where he promoted his emboldened administration’s decision to try to strike down the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Trump praised Mr. Barr for releasing such a quick summary of Mr. Mueller’s report.

“I love the A.G. He works fast. I love this guy. You told me I would,” Mr. Trump told the group, according to a person familiar with his remarks, before suggesting that he would not like to see any leaks coming from the meeting. He also shared his reasoning for doubling down on his targets.

“People love it when you attack the press,” he told the group.

The president’s targets include individual Democrats and law enforcement institutions. Senator Lindsey Graham, a White House ally, said he would investigate anti-Trump bias at the F.B.I. and Justice Department, presumably shifting the focus back to Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent from 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Some of the targets have been happy to hit back.

Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat and vocal critic of the administration who heads the House Intelligence Committee, is among those facing pressure from the White House to resign. Asked by a reporter Monday evening whether he feared that Republicans would keep up the pummeling in a public hearing on Russia hosted by his committee on Thursday, Mr. Schiff laughed.

“I’ve gotten used to the attacks from Trump and his allies in Congress,” he said. “There’s nothing particularly new or novel about that.”

One figure conspicuously absent from the president’s ire is Mr. Mueller himself, but Mr. Trump’s earlier suggestion that the special counsel acted honorably during the process was undermined by Mr. Giuliani, who said on CNN on Tuesday that he was not left with that impression.

“I would have to disagree with my client,” Mr. Giuliani said. He also suggested that Mr. Mueller was “confused” about what Mr. Barr said was the special counsel’s conclusion on obstruction of justice: that although the evidence fell short of proving Mr. Trump committed a crime, it “does not exonerate him.”

“Maybe I was in the trenches more,” Mr. Giuliani said.

Joe Lockhart, a Democratic strategist who was President Bill Clinton’s press secretary when was impeached, said in an interview that the White House was playing a dangerous game by declaring full victory and going on the attack before the full results of Mr. Mueller’s report — including full details on the actions Mr. Trump took during the course of the investigation — became public.

Likening this White House’s victory celebration to President George W. Bush’s premature “Mission Accomplished” declaration during the Iraq war, Mr. Lockhart said the administration has “left it wide open for every new development to be a big story.” He added: “I just think they struck the exact wrong tone. Right now it can only go one way, which is bad for them.”

Other Democrats are watching the behavior of the president and his aides closely, but are taking a more cautious approach as Republicans celebrate and go on the offensive. In remarks during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol on Tuesday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California sought to quiet her own troops.

“Be calm,” Ms. Pelosi said, according to an aide in the room. “Take a deep breath. Don’t become like them. We have to handle this handle this professionally, officially, patriotically, strategically.”

The speaker paused.

“Let’s just get the goods,” she added.

But among the president’s aides, there is a feeling of relief on behalf of a president and group of voters who have been maligned during the two-year Russia investigation, Ms. Conway said in an interview.

“It’s vindication and celebration, but also frustration and consternation,” she said. “This was a full-on defenestration and attempted dehumanization. The same people who were wrong about the 2016 election were wrong again.”

She added, “Moving on might take a minute.”

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