Trump’s revenge on White House staffer

 

DONALD Trump has exacted revenge on two witnesses who testified to Congress's impeachment inquiry about his conduct, firing them in quick succession today.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland have both lost their jobs, two days after Mr Trump was acquitted by the Senate in his impeachment trial.

Lt Colonel Vindman was working at the White House as an adviser on the national security council. Today security escorted him out of the building and told him his services were no longer required.

His twin brother, Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman, was also fired and marched out, despite having played no role in the impeachment saga.

A few hours later, Mr Sondland released a statement revealing he too had been sacked.

"I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately," Mr Sondland said.

"I am grateful to President Trump for having given me the opportunity to serve."

It's an abrupt fall for Mr Sondland, who was a supporter of Mr Trump in the 2016 election campaign and donated a million dollars to his inaugural committee.

Lt Col Alexander Vindman. Picture: Andrew Harnik/AP
Lt Col Alexander Vindman. Picture: Andrew Harnik/AP

WHAT VINDMAN AND SONDLAND SAID

Lt Col Vindman is a decorated military officer who was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.

He then moved into diplomacy, becoming a foreign area officer specialising in Eurasia and eventually joining the White House's National Security Council, where he was in charge of Ukraine policy.

After years of working behind the scenes, he suddenly became a very public figure when he was subpoenaed by Congress to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

Lt Col Vindman told the hearing a strong and independent Ukraine was "critical to US national security interests", because it was a "bulwark" against Russian aggression.

"In Spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency. This narrative was harmful to US government policy," he said.

The "false" narrative here was the idea, promoted by Mr Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that Ukraine interfered in America's 2016 presidential election.

That was one of the two things Mr Trump pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate during their now infamous phone call, the other being Burisma, a company that employed former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter on its board.

Lt Col Vindman listened to that call in the White House Situation Room.

"I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the US government's support of Ukraine," he said.

"I realised that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine US national security."

Col Vindman also described a pivotal meeting involving Mr Sondland, during which Mr Sondland spoke about Ukraine "delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President".

At the time, Ukraine was pressing for an official White House meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky.

"Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Ambassador Sondland emphasised the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma," Lt Col Vindman said.

"I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push."

He then reported his concerns to the NSC's lead counsel, John Eisenberg.

At the time of Lt Col Vindman's testimony, Mr Trump dismissed him as a "Never Trumper" - the term invented in 2016 to refer to Republicans who would never vote for him.

Mr Sondland gave his own testimony to Congress several days later, saying the plan to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations was "no secret" and "everyone was in the loop".

Mr Sondland implicated several key members of the US Administration in the scandal, testifying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on parts of the pressure campaign, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, was heavily involved. He said they all understood that there was a "clear quid pro quo" linking a White House meeting for Mr Zelensky to a promise by him to announce investigations into the Bidens.

"I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?" Mr Sondland said.

"As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.

"We followed the President's orders."

That testimony directly contradicted Mr Trump's insistence there was no quid pro quo.

Donald Trump said aid money and a White House meeting were not linked to his push for investigations. Picture: Patrick Semansky/AP
Donald Trump said aid money and a White House meeting were not linked to his push for investigations. Picture: Patrick Semansky/AP

VINDMAN LAWYER'S SCATHING RESPONSE

Lt Col Vindman's lawyer David Pressman released a scathing statement in response to his client's firing today.

"There is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House," said Mr Pressman.

"Lt Col Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honour, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.

"During his decades of service to this country, Lt Col Alexander Vindman has served quietly but dutifully, and he has served with honour. He came into the public eye only when subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and he did what the law demanded."

Mr Pressman brought up the other officials who had complied with congressional requests to testify, despite the risk to their own careers.

"They courageously chose to honour their duty with integrity, to trust the truth, and to put their faith in country ahead of fear. And they have paid a price," he said.

"The truth has cost Lt Col Vindman his job, his career and his privacy. 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. And for that, the most powerful man in the world, buoyed by the silent, the pliable and the complicit, has decided to exact revenge.

"In this country right matters, and so does truth. Truth is not partisan. If we allow truthful voices to be silenced, if we ignore their warnings, eventually there will be no one left to warn us."

 

Gordon Sondland. Picture: Andrew Harnik/AP
Gordon Sondland. Picture: Andrew Harnik/AP