Trump ousts officials who testified on impeachment

President Trump travels to Charlotte, NC

US President Donald Trump has ousted two government officials, Alexander Vindman and Gordon Sondland, who testified against him during his impeachment hearings.

The president took retribution just two days after his acquittal by the Senate.

Lt Col Alexander Vindman, the decorated soldier and national security aide who played a central role in the Democrats' impeachment case, was escorted out of the White House complex.

His lawyer said this was in retaliation for "telling the truth".

"The truth has cost Lt Col Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy," David Pressman said in a statement.

Mr Vindman's twin brother, Lt Col Yevgeny Vindman, was also asked to leave his job as a White House lawyer on Friday, the Army said in a statement.

Both men were reassigned to other positions in the Army.

Next came word that Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, was also out.

Vindman
Lt Col Alexander Vindman (Andrew Harnik/AP)

"I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States ambassador to the European Union," Mr Sondland said in a statement.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on Thursday that Mr Trump was glad the impeachment trial was over and "maybe people should pay for that".

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Mr Vindman's ouster was "a clear and brazen act of retaliation that showcases the President's fear of the truth.

"The President's vindictiveness is precisely what led Republican Senators to be accomplices to his cover-up."

Californian Democrat Jackie Speier called it "the Friday Night Massacre", likening the situation to President Richard Nixon's so-called Saturday night massacre, when top justice department officials resigned after refusing to do his bidding by firing a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. (The prosecutor himself was fired anyway.)

Ms Speier added in her tweet, "I'm sure Trump is fuming that he can't fire Pelosi."

Senate Republicans, who just two days before acquitted Mr Trump of charges he abused his office, were silent on Friday evening.

Many of them had reacted with indignation during the Senate trial when Democrat Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor, suggested Mr Trump would be out for revenge against the people who crossed him during the impeachment proceedings.

Since his acquittal, Mr Trump has held nothing back in lashing out at his critics, including Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to vote against him.

On Friday, he also took after Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia whom Trump had hoped would vote with the Republicans for his acquittal but who ended up voting to convict.

Mr Trump tweeted that he was "very surprised & disappointed" with Mr Manchin's votes, claiming no president had done more for his state. He added that Mr Manchin was "just a puppet" for the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

It was Alexander Vindman who first told the House that in America "right matters" – a phrase repeated in the impeachment trial by Mr Schiff.

Mr Sondland was also a crucial witness in the House impeachment inquiry, telling investigators that "Everyone was in the loop" on Mr Trump's desire to press Ukraine for politically charged investigations.

He told how he came to understand that there was a "quid pro quo" connecting a desired White House visit for Ukraine's leader and an announcement that the country would conduct the investigations the president wanted.

Mr Sondland "chose to be terminated rather than resign," according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Alexander Vindman's lawyer issued a one-page statement that accused Mr Trump of taking revenge on his client.

"He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath and he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril," Mr Pressman said.

"And for that, the most powerful man in the world – buoyed by the silent, the pliable and the complicit – has decided to exact revenge."

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