A small number of Republican senators tried to talk to the White House to prevent President Donald Trump from firing Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. But the president wasn’t swayed by their concern that it would look bad for him to get rid of a key impeachment witness and went ahead with the ouster, reports the New York Times.
Beyond optics, the senators, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, tried to convince Trump with the argument that ousting Sondland was unnecessary because he was already in talks to leave the administration after the impeachment trial. But Trump was apparently uninterested in trying to get Sondland to leave quietly. When Sondland refused to resign Friday, Trump ordered he be recalled from his post immediately. Other senators who tried to prevent the firing included Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Martha McSally of Arizona, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
The announcement of Sondland’s ouster came shortly after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council staff who was also an impeachment witness, was fired and escorted out of the White House. Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who worked as a lawyer on the National Security Council staff, was also fired even though he did not take part in the impeachment hearings. The senators were not as eager to try to stop Alexander Vindman’s ouster, in part because the president’s allies saw it as inevitable.
Democrats have characterized the firings as a “Friday night massacre,” saying it was a way to get revenge against those who testified against the president. A Trump adviser confirmed to CNN that the firings were a way to send a message that speaking up against the president would not be tolerated. “Flushing out the pipes,” an adviser told CNN. “It was necessary.”
Trump pushed back on the characterization of Vindman as a victim, calling him “very insubordinate.” In a series of tweets Saturday, Trump said Vindman “was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information.” Trump did not explain why Vindman’s twin brother was also fired. Vindman’s lawyer issued a statement later Sunday, saying Trump’s allegations “conflict with the clear personnel record and the entirety of the impeachment record of which the President is well aware.”