Trump Fires Impeachment Witnesses Gordon Sondland and Alexander Vindman

FILE – In this Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, file photo, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. For readers of some prominent regional newspapers, following the impeachment inquiry is a far different experience depending on whether you seek out newsprint or go digital. Copies of the Charlotte Observer, Tampa Bay Times, Indianapolis Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Idaho Statesman that arrived on doorsteps Thursday all had a story about Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony at the top of their front pages. Yet if you clicked onto each newspaper’s web site mid-morning, you’d see a different lead story. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

President Trump wasted little time on Friday opening a campaign of retribution against those he blames for his impeachment, firing two of the most prominent witnesses in the House inquiry against him barely 48 hours after being acquitted by the Senate.

Emboldened by his victory and determined to strike back, Mr. Trump ordered Gordon D. Sondland, the founder of a hotel chain who donated $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee, recalled from his post as the ambassador to the European Union on the same day that Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran on the National Security Council staff, was marched out of the White House by security guards.

The ousters of Mr. Sondland and Colonel Vindman — along with Mr. Vindman’s brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, an Army officer who also worked on the National Security Council staff — may only presage a broader effort to even accounts with the president’s perceived enemies. In the two days since his acquittal in the Senate, Mr. Trump has railed about those who stood against him, calling them “evil,” “corrupt” and “crooked,” while his press secretary declared that those who hurt the president “should pay for” it.

Even as he began purging administration officials who testified in the House impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump assailed a Democratic senator who he had hoped would side with him during the trial but did not and called on the House to “expunge” his impeachment because he deems it illegitimate.

The flurry of actions and outbursts drew quick condemnation from Democrats, who said the president was demonstrating that he feels unleashed, and complicated the politics of impeachment for moderate Republicans who stood by him while arguing that he had learned his lesson and would be more restrained in the future.

“There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House,” David Pressman, Colonel Vindman’s lawyer, said in a statement. “Lt. Col. Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.”

Colonel Vindman spoke publicly only once, after being ordered to under subpoena, Mr. Pressman added. “And for that, the most powerful man in the world — buoyed by the silent, the pliable and the complicit — has decided to exact revenge.”

Mr. Sondland took a more measured approach, confirming that he had been dismissed without offering any protest.

“I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States ambassador to the European Union,” he said in a statement hours after Colonel Vindman’s dismissal. “I am grateful to President Trump for having given me the opportunity to serve, to Secretary Pompeo for his consistent support and to the exceptional and dedicated professionals at the U.S. Mission to the European Union.”

Mr. Sondland and Colonel Vindman were key witnesses in the House impeachment hearings. Mr. Sondland, who was deeply involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s Democratic rivals, testified that “we followed the president’s orders” and that “everyone was in the loop.” Colonel Vindman, who was on Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, testified that it was “improper for the president” to coerce a foreign country to investigate a political opponent.

It may have been untenable for them to keep working for a president with whom they broke so publicly, but the White House made no effort to portray the ousters as anything other than reprisals. Mr. Trump foreshadowed Colonel Vindman’s fate hours ahead of time when asked if he would be pushed out. “Well, I’m not happy with him,” the president told reporters. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.”

The president continued to assail lawmakers who voted for conviction, targeting Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who bitterly disappointed Mr. Trump by sticking with his party. “I was told by many that Manchin was just a puppet for Schumer & Pelosi,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “That’s all he is!”

Even as Mr. Trump flew to North Carolina to highlight his economic record, he called on the House to “expunge” his impeachment, an idea with no precedent or basis in the Constitution. “They should because it was a hoax,” he told reporters. “It was a total political hoax.” And he accused Ms. Pelosi of committing a crime by ripping up a copy of his State of the Union address. “She broke the law,” he asserted.

The president’s critics had warned that he would feel unbound if acquitted, and some said the dismissals proved their point, quickly calling them “the Friday night massacre,” as Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, put it.

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Source: New York Times