Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, whose subpoenaed testimony in the House impeachment inquiry enraged President Trump and his allies, has been fired from his job at the National Security Council, as has U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who answered a subpoena to testify. The dismissals came less than two days after Senate Republicans rubber-stamped Trump’s acquittal.
Vindman, a Ukraine expert and decorated veteran who was injured during the Iraq War, served on the NSC as director of European Affairs. But on Friday, Vindman was told his services were no longer needed and was escorted out of the White House by security, according to his lawyer. His twin brother, Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman, was also fired from the NSC, where he worked as an ethics lawyer.
Also on Friday, hotelier Gordon Sondland, whose testimony enraged the president and his allies, announced that “I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States ambassador to the European Union.”
The White House hasn’t publicly explained why the Vindman brothers or Sondland were fired, but it’s hardly a mystery. Trump has publicly complained about Sondland and Alexander Vindman ever since they testified, and the Trump team has all but released a movie trailer for the president’s post-impeachment retaliation campaign.
Vindman told House lawmakers in November that Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was anything but “perfect,” as Trump has dubiously — and repeatedly — claimed. The Ukraine-born Vindman has been baselessly accused of being a spy by Trump’s allies, and the president has retweeted calls to fire him in the past.
Sondland, who had a bit of trouble remembering what he remembered during House Democrats’ impeachment investigation, ultimately testified that he believed there was a quid pro quo in Trump’s demand for Ukraine to investigate the Biden family.
Now that Senate Republicans have finished off Trump’s impeachment, the president is finishing off anyone who appeared disloyal during the process. On Monday, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported that a GOP source had told him, “Trump has an enemies list that is growing by the day” and includes both Democratic and Republican officials. During a long, rambling prayer-breakfast screed on Thursday, Trump made clear that he planned to take revenge on everyone he could for his impeachment. Trump has also repeatedly attacked Vindman in private, per the Washington Post, and he mentioned the Vindman brothers at a bizarre post-impeachment celebration at the White House on Friday — which was literally billed as a payback-focused event.
And on Friday morning, following reports of Vindman’s impending dismissal, Trump told reporters, “I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.”
“They’ll make that decision,” Trump continued. “You’ll be hearing. They’ll make a decision.”
According to Bloomberg, the best rationale White House insiders could come up with to justify axing the Vindmans was as “part of a broader effort to shrink the foreign-policy bureaucracy.”
“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,” Vindman’s lawyer, David Pressman, said in a statement on Friday. “[He] was asked to leave for telling the truth,” Pressman continued, insisting that Vindman is an honorable public servant who has “put their faith in country ahead of fear” and “paid a price” for it.
Vindman, an active-duty service member while on the NSC, is expected to return to the Pentagon, according to CNN, but it’s not clear what role he’ll play there. He had originally been scheduled to leave the White House in July but apparently had told colleagues he was planning to leave early, at the end of the month. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in November that Vindman “shouldn’t have any fear of retaliation” for his testimony. Asked about Vindman’s dismissal on Friday, Esper replied, “We welcome back all of our service members, wherever they serve, to any assignment they are given.” The Pentagon will “protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that,” he added.
During his impeachment testimony, Vindman was asked how he overcame his fear of retaliation. “Because this is America,” he replied. “This is the country I have served and defended — that all of my brothers have served — and here, right matters.”