Two top officials who gave damaging testimony in the U.S. House of Representatives' impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump have been ousted from their positions following Trump’s acquittal in a Senate trial.
U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who testified about a controversial phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, was fired from his job on February 7 as the National Security Council’s (NSC) expert for the former Soviet republic in what his lawyer said was an act of “revenge.”
Meanwhile, Gordon Sondland, a major donor to the Trump inaugural committee, said in a statement that he has been advised that Trump plans to recall him as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Both men answered House subpoenas and gave testimony that was considered damaging to the president’s argument that he did nothing wrong in his relations with Ukraine, the key matter behind the Democratic-led House's decision to impeach Trump.
Trump has publicly attacked Vindman and distanced himself from Sondland following their testimony, and his spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, on February 6 said the president would look at ”just how horribly he was treated and, you know, that maybe people should pay for that.”
Trump was acquitted on February 5 in the Senate trial, with just one Republican senator joining all Democrats in voting to convict. The acquittal was expected as a two-thirds majority was required to convict in the chamber, which is controlled by Republicans.
Vindman was among those tasked by the White House to listen to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which the U.S. president asked Zelenskiy to open an investigation into political rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of the call.
Vindman, who was born Ukraine and emigrated to the United States as a child with his family, said during his House testimony that Trump's actions were "improper."
"It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent," said Vindman, who received a medal for wounds suffered in Iraq.
Vindman’s lawyer, David Pressman, said the Army officer had been fired and was "escorted out of the White House, where he has dutifully served his country and his president."
"The truth has cost Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy," he said. "He served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril.
"And for that, the most powerful man in the world -- buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit -- has decided to exact revenge," Pressman said.
A day after Vindman's departure, Trump posted to Twitter that the "Fake News" media kept "talking about 'Lt. Col.' Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was."
"Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my 'perfect' calls incorrectly," Trump said in his post.
Michael Volkov, who represented Vindman when he testified in the impeachment inquiry, said Vindman's twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman -- also an Army lieutenant colonel who worked as an NSC lawyer -- was also escorted off the White House grounds at the same time.
An Army spokesperson said both men had been reassigned to the Army but declined to provide details "out of respect for their privacy."
A spokesman for the NSC declined to comment.
Representative Eliot Engel, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision to remove Alexander Vindman was "shameful."
"This president believes the only loyalty that matters is loyalty to him personally," Engel said in a statement.
Separately, Sondland, a Trump appointee, said in a statement seen by U.S. media that "I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States ambassador to the European Union."
Sondland told House lawmakers that Trump sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine in return for nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military assistance that the White House had put on hold and that “everyone was in the loop” in the effort.
In his February 7 statement, Sondland said that "I am grateful to President Trump for having given me the opportunity to serve, to Secretary [Mike] Pompeo for his consistent support, and to the exceptional and dedicated professionals at the U.S. Mission to the European Union. I am proud of our accomplishments. Our work here has been the highlight of my career."