Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives on Capitol Hill to testify in House impeachment hearings, October 29, 2019 (Patrick Semansky/AP)
A vindictive Donald Trump has fired two senior US officials who testified in the impeachment hearings over Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate political rivals.
Trump ordered the eviction of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran, from his National Security Council office on Friday.
He then recalled the US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, a central figure in the 10-month campaign by Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to tarnish Presidential candidate Joe Biden and to cover up Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
Vindman, born in Kyiv, was the NSC’s specialist on Russia and Ukraine. In October and November, he told the House Intelligence Committee how he listened in on the July 25 call in which Trump sought the investigations from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — a call that sparked a formal complaint and then the impeachment process.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was probably an element of shock — that maybe, in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, and how this was likely to have significant implications for US national security.
Trump supporters on the committee attacked Vindman’s expertise and even his loyalty to the US. The veteran responded, “This is America. This is the country I served and defended, that all my brothers have served, and, here, right matters.”
Vindman’s brother, Lt. Col Yevgeny Vindman, was also dismissed yesterday from his position on the National Security Council staff.
Meanwhile, Trump spent his Twitter day retweeting smears of Alexander Vindman, including the accusations of loyalty to Ukraine rather than US.
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. Lt. Col. Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.
Vindman defied a White House order not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony and documents, an order that led to the impeachment charge of obstruction of Congress.
Pressman noted, “And for that, the most powerful man in the world — buoyed by the silent, the pliable and the complicit — has decided to exact revenge.”
Firing A Former Ally
Sondland, a hotelier who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, was rewarded with the Ambassador’s post in Brussels. He then became a point man in the Trump-Giuliani pressure campaign, delivering messages to Ukraine’s officials about the desired investigations.
But Sondland drew Trump’s ire when, under pressure over text messages that revealed his role, he rejected the order not to testify.
He destroyed Trump’s denial of a “quid pro quo”, including military aid to Kyiv, for Ukraine’s announcement of the investigations. He made clear that Giuliani was acting at “the direction” of Trump and said, “We followed the President’s orders.”
Sondland also implicated top officials such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying they were aware of the Trump-Giuliani pressure.
“Everyone was in the loop,” he summarized.
Sondland said in a statement on Friday:
I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States ambassador to the European Union.
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 US Mission to the European Union.
Furious that Wednesday’s closure of the trial was overshadowed by Sen. Mitt Romney’s decision to join Democrats in a vote for conviction, Trump and the White House promised “payback” on Thursday.
At a National Prayer Breakfast and then in an hour-long statement at the White House, Trump railed about “evil”, “corrupt”, and “crooked” people, “dirty cops”, and “leakers and liars”. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Democrats should “pay for” impeachment.
Hours before Vindman was abruptly evicted from the White House by security guards, Trump told reporters, “I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.”
Trump continued his bitter campaign on Twitter yesterday, assailing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin as a “puppet” for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Manchin’s “offense” was to vote for conviction on Wednesday, after the White House hoped he might break Democratic ranks to clear Trump.
Trump continued his assault on Pelosi, after insulting her and questioning her religious faith — along with that of Romney — on Thursday.
“She broke the law,” he insisted, referring to her ripping up a copy of his State of the Union address.
Democrats rallied behind Vindman and challenged Trump.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead House manager in the trial — who had warned of Trump’s ongoing abuses if he was not convicted — said, “These are the actions of a man who believes he is above the law.”
Pelosi said, “This goes too far.” And at the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, Biden Jr. asked the audience to stand in support of Vindman.
But Republican legislators continued to enable Trump by defending the firings. And Donald Trump Jr. celebrated:
Allow me a moment to thank—and this may be a bit of a surprise—Adam Schiff. Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam! 🤣 #FullOfSchiff
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 8, 2020
However, in what appeared to be an implicit rebuke of Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said both Vindmans would be welcomed back into military service: “We protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that.”