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How Does A President Handle Impeachment Inquiry Stress?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Donald Trump is only the third American president in the modern era to face the prospect of impeachment. So what's a president to do? Just a warning here - there's language in this story that some listeners may find offensive. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The presidential historian Timothy Naftali says that Richard Nixon was always uncomfortable in the public glare.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI: Richard Nixon, to begin with, was an introvert. And the stress produced by the impeachment inquiry made him even more introverted. He retreated into the residence of the White House.

FOLKENFLIK: Nixon famously started talking to portraits of long-dead presidents. Dan Aykroyd played a self-pitying Nixon on "Saturday Night Live."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DAN AYKROYD: (As Richard Nixon) Well, Abe, you were lucky. They shot you.

(LAUGHTER)

FOLKENFLIK: President Clinton surrounded himself with religious leaders in private and in public, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL CLINTON: I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified, I was not contrite enough. I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.

FOLKENFLIK: President Trump marches to his own beat - or at least his own tweet. Yesterday, Trump tweeted out an exchange with Fox News' John Roberts.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I love that question. Thank you, John.

FOLKENFLIK: At that press conference, Trump made unfounded allegations against a whistleblower and against the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Well, I think it's a scandal that he knew before. I'd go a step further. I think he probably helped write it.

FOLKENFLIK: For his tweet, Trump took the feed from the conservative One America Network, which lavishes praise on the president. So Trump makes wild claims, news networks broadcast them, then he picks up a clip of his remarks from a news site that never challenges him and tweets it to 65 million Twitter followers. He has tweeted feverishly since the impeachment process started, transmitting caustic ads, his own charged rhetoric and fiery surrogates. Fox News is a frequent touchstone, as are loyalists from other outfits.

Trump retweeted Breitbart's online poll - 97.83% of respondents said, yes, they stand by Trump. Going by his tweets, the president has been seeking solace in voices that endorse his every move.

VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN: I'm trying to think of people in modern life who, like, go from tears to rage to self-love. It's just very hard to think of someone who's as emo as he is, and he's just such an open book.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Virginia Heffernan. She's host of Slate's podcast series "Trumpcast."

HEFFERNAN: It's like listening to a heartbroken friend go over and over again about his ex-wife.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump obsessed over an exchange on "Fox & Friends" this weekend in ways that revealed the depths of his contempt for anyone who would question his conduct in office. The show's guest was Mark Levin, a right-wing commentator from The Blaze. After a while, Fox News host Ed Henry asked about the substance of the impeachment allegations. Levin ran roughshod over Henry, insisting the focus be directed instead at the whistleblower who flagged concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")

MARK LEVIN: Let me do it this way. I'm an American citizen. If this CIA operative is going to be the guy that brings down my president, I want to know all about him.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump tweeted out video of the full interview and then retweeted fans trashing Fox News' Henry in starkly profane terms.

NAFTALI: And this president, not only is he not concerned about swearing in the White House, he's willing to own it in his Twitter stream.

FOLKENFLIK: Tim Naftali was the first federal director of the Nixon Presidential Library.

NAFTALI: Nixon was very concerned that the American people would think less of him if they knew that he swore in the Oval Office. And he rarely used F-bombs, but he used god**** a lot.

FOLKENFLIK: So when Nixon had to release transcripts of private conversations, he edited out the damns. Yesterday, Trump tweeted Democrats were, quote, "chasing bull..." - yeah, I'm not going to finish that word. As Nixon expressed his contempt and disrespect for public officials privately, Trump conveys it publicly on the Twitter feed he's embracing so tightly in crisis.

David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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