U.S. President Donald Trump has fired two key witnesses in the impeachment investigation against him, as he started an apparent campaign of retaliation just two days after he was acquitted by the Senate.
Mr Trump fired Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, just hours after dismissing Ukraine expert Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army lieutenant colonel, according to statements released by Sondland and Vindman’s lawyer.
“The most powerful man in the world – buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit – has decided to exact revenge,” Mr Vindman’s attorney David Pressman said in a statement, adding his client was “escorted” from the White House.
It was an astonishing move by Mr Trump to clear his administration of people who have testified in the impeachment probe, which investigated Mr Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations that could help his 2020 re-election bid.
Mr Sondland – a political appointee who donated 1 million dollars to the Trump’s presidential campaign – testified publicly that he believed there was a quid pro quo in Mr Trump’s demand that Kiev pursue investigations.
“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, reported by multiple U.S. media outlets.
“Our work here has been the highlight of my career,” he added.
Ukraine expert Mr Vindman – who worked on National Security Council – was one of a number of Trump administration officials that listened in on a July 25 call where Mr Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to do a “favour” and investigate his political rival.
“It was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power,” Mr Vindman said during his testimony.
Earlier on Friday, Mr Trump – who was acquitted this week on all impeachment charges – indicated that Mr Vindman would be removed.
“You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not,” Mr Trump said.
According to multiple U.S. media reports, Mr Vindman will be reassigned to a position in the Defense Department.
Mr Trump was impeached in December in the House of Representatives.
He was charged with abusing his office to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation of his political rival ahead of elections this year, leveraging military aid to lean on Kiev, and then obstructing the investigation by Congress.
The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him earlier this week in a vote that was largely along party lines.
“As usual, the White House runs away from the truth. Lt. Col. Vindman lived up to his oath to protect and defend our Constitution.
“This action is not a sign of strength,” Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate said on Friday.