President Trump and his aides wasted little time opening a campaign of retribution against those he blames for his impeachment, firing today two of the most prominent witnesses in the inquiry against him barely 48 hours after the Senate acquitted the president.
Emboldened by his victory and determined to strike back, Trump fired Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, within hours of the White House dismissing Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran who was a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.
Both officials testified to a House committee about the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to help him against his domestic political rivals.
“I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union,” Sondland said in a statement just hours after Colonel Vindman’s dismissal. He expressed gratitude to Trump “for having given me the opportunity to serve.”
Colonel Vindman was escorted out of the White House by security officers this afternoon and told that his services were no longer needed.
His twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who also worked on the N.S.C. staff, was fired too and escorted out at the same time.
Both will be sent back to the Defense Department.
“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, Alexander 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, when ordered to under subpoena, 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.”
Trump signaled Colonel Vindman’s fate hours ahead of time when he told reporters that a decision would be coming soon. “Well, I’m not happy with him,” the president said of Colonel Vindman. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.”
The ouster of the Vindman brothers and Sondland 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, Trump has railed about those who stood against him like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, calling them “evil,” “corrupt” and “crooked,” while his White House press secretary declared that those who hurt the president “should pay for” it.
Trump continued to go after lawmakers who voted for conviction, targeting Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of the Democrats the White House had hoped to win over only to be bitterly disappointed when he voted along with the rest of his party.
“I was told by many that Manchin was just a puppet for Schumer & Pelosi,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “That’s all he is!”
“This is shameful of course,” said Representative Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “But this is also what we should now expect from an impeached president whose party has decided he is above the law and accountable to no one.”
Schumer said the action showed that the White House was running away from the truth.
“This action is not a sign of strength,” he said. “It only shows President Trump’s weakness.”
Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled from her post because she was seen as an obstacle to the president’s plans, retired from the Foreign Service last month.
William Taylor Jr., who replaced her in an acting capacity, was essentially brought back early as well.
Jennifer Williams, a career official detailed to Vice President Mike Pence’s office, quietly left recently to return to the Defense Department.
Several who testified had already left the government, like Fiona Hill, the Europe policy chief at the National Security Council, while Kurt D. Volker, the special envoy for Ukraine, resigned days before testifying.
But others so far remain at their posts, including George Kent at the State Department, Laura Cooper at the Defense Department and David Holmes at the embassy in Ukraine.
Attribution:The New York Times