Two prominent witnesses in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump were recalled from their positions on Friday evening in what appeared to be a retaliatory purge after the president’s acquittal this week.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide, was removed from his post at the White House this afternoon—along with his twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, a lieutenant colonel in the Army. Just a couple hours later, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, said he had been told he would be recalled.
Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman, said that Vindman and his brother, who is a lawyer for the NSC, were escorted out of the White House after they received the news on Friday. Vindman had already said that he planned to leave his post months ahead of schedule. The two will now be reassigned to positions at the Pentagon.
During the House impeachment inquiry, Vindman had emphasized that he was apolitical and motivated by nothing but loyalty to public service when he testified against Trump. In that testimony, he said that Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens was “inappropriate” because of “significant national security implications.”
In a statement Friday night, Sondland said that he “was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union.” During his appearance in the impeachment inquiry, Sondland said explicitly that there had been a “quid pro quo” in Trump’s discussions with Zelensky. Sondland, unlike Vindman, was a Trump appointee with a background in business, rather than government. He was put in his position after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.
Pressman, the lawyer for Vindman, said in a statement that there was no doubt about the White House’s motive. “There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over,” he said. “LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth.”
He added that because of Vindman’s commitment to telling the truth, “the most powerful man in the world” had “decided to exact revenge.”
Earlier Friday, Trump was asked what his press secretary meant when she said the president’s opponents should be “held accountable.” Trump responded, “Well, you’ll see.” When asked if he would have Vindman removed, Trump indicated that his actions were driven by spite. “Well, I’m not happy with him,” he told reporters. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” The previous day, Trump had mentioned Vindman and Vindman’s twin brother in a speech boasting about his acquittal in the impeachment trial.
Democrats spoke out against the president upon hearing the news on Friday.
After news of Sondland’s firing, the president’s son appeared to confirm the critics’ interpretation of Trump’s actions. “Allow me a moment to thank—and this may be a bit of a surprise—Adam Schiff,” he tweeted. “Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam!”