2020-02-08 02:08:26 UTC
Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump fired two key impeachment witnesses
Friday, dismissing Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the
National Security Council, and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon
An adviser to Trump said the firings of the major impeachment witnesses was
meant to send a message that siding against the President will not be tolerated.
"Flushing out the pipes," the adviser told CNN. "It was necessary."
Vindman was pushed out of his role Friday months earlier than expected,
according to a statement from his attorney. Vindman was not slated to leave
until July, but had been telling colleagues in recent weeks he would likely
Sondland said in a statement Friday that he is being recalled from his post.
"I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective
immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union," Sondland said.
"I am grateful to President Trump for having given me the opportunity to serve,
to Secretary Pompeo for his consistent support, and to the exceptional and
dedicated professionals at the U.S. Mission to the European Union. I am proud of
our accomplishments. Our work here has been the highlight of my career."
The dismissals appear to be retribution for Vindman and Sondland's explosive
testimonies to the House impeachment probe late last year, both of which were
done under subpoena. The duo gave some of the most damning testimony to House
impeachment investigators during last fall's public hearings and quickly became
targets for Trump's supporters, both inside and outside of government. The
firings come two days after the Senate voted to acquit Trump on two articles of
impeachment in votes that were largely along party lines.
Trump had continued to fume privately about Vindman's testimony during the
impeachment inquiry and foreshadowed his dismissal earlier Friday.
"Well, I'm not happy with him," Trump said. "You think I'm supposed to be happy
with him? I'm not."
Sondland's ties to the White House and Trump had deteriorated since his
testimony. A person familiar with the situation says Sondland's ties to the
White House and Trump had frayed badly since he testified last year. He once had
Trump effectively on speed-dial, or the presidential equivalent of it, but since
his appearance he hasn't spoken with Trump. He was also pulled from overseeing
the Ukraine portfolio, which wasn't directly related to his position as EU
Vindman dismissed early
Vindman, a decorated veteran who was born in Ukraine, was escorted out of the
White House by security and told his services were no longer needed, according
to his lawyer, David Pressman.
Pressman said in a statement that it is clear he was fired for testifying in the
"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,"
Pressman said. "LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor,
his commitment to right, frightened the powerful."
He added, "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."
His twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, a National Security Council
attorney, was also fired, "suddenly and with no explanation, despite over two
decades of loyal service to this country," Pressman said, and walked off the
White House grounds alongside Alex Vindman.
Yevgeny Vindman had never testified or spoke publicly about the Ukraine saga.
"He deeply regrets that he will not be able to continue his service at the White
House," Pressman said in a statement.
Before the impeachment inquiry was launched, the Vindman brothers often arrived
at work together.
National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said: "We do not comment on
Vindman is expected to return to the Pentagon, though it's still unclear what
his assignment will be until he's expected to attend war college this summer.
"We welcome back all of our service members, wherever they serve, to any
assignment they are given," Defense Secretary Mark Esper had said Friday when
asked about Vindman's expected ouster.
"We can confirm that both Lt. Cols. Vindman have been reassigned to the
Department of the Army, out of respect for their privacy, we will not be
providing any further information at this time," an Army spokesperson said.
The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Hyten, told CNN that
"it will be up to the Army" to determine where Alex Vindman goes next. "But I'm
sure there's still room for his talents in the United States Army, it's just not
in the current job," he said.
While Vindman had only learned from news reports late Thursday night of the
potential White House plan to fire him, he'd been steeling himself for this
moment since he testified in Trump's impeachment hearing in November, according
to a source familiar.
Of the friends and family reaching out in support of the Purple Heart recipient
amid the subsequent attacks from Trump and his allies, some also warned of
One source who spoke with Vindman recently said the veteran originally hoped he
could continue to be effective in his role at the National Security Council
post-testimony, but was quickly marginalized when he returned to work.