White House fires impeachment witness Vindman in ongoing purge

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a star witnesses in the inquiry that led to the impeachment of President Trump, was dismissed from his post on the National Security Council and escorted from the White House Friday, according to his lawyer.

“Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth,” David Pressman, Vindman’s lawyer said in a statement. “His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.”

The Ukrainian-born officer, who came to the U.S as a childhood and received a Purple Heart for combat wounds in Iraq, testified about listening to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"I was concerned by the call, what I heard was inappropriate, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg," Vindman, who was the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told House lawmakers about the call in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

“It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent,” Vindman testified. “It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play.”

Trump and his supporters have criticized Vindman’s account of what the president terms his “perfect call” with Zelensky, which led to a whistleblower complaint, not by Vindman, that kicked off the impeachment inquiry.

Shortly before Vindman was escorted from the White House, Trump signaled to reporters that his ouster was imminent. “I’m not happy with him,” Trump said of Vindman.

Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeney, who had served as an ethics lawyer for the NSC, was also dismissed from his position Friday, Bloomberg reported.

Vindman is expected to be reassigned to the Pentagon, where officials have pledged he will not face further retaliation.

“We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday.

Vindman is not the only administration official who testified to the House inquiry to be reassigned. On Monday, Jennifer Williams, a State Department employee on Vice President Mike Pence’s staff, was granted a request to leave her rotation at the White House early. Williams, who testified alongside Vindman during the impeachment inquiry, described Trump’s call with Zelensky  “improper” and “unusual.” 

William Taylor, who served as the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and testified in the impeachment inquiry, left his position in early January.

Taylor testified about the “unusual” channel of diplomacy being carried out in Ukraine by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and further established the president’s direct involvement with pursuing a foreign investigation of Biden.

“Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine,” Taylor testified. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of [Joe] Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. envoy to the European Union, also testified in the House inquiry. He is still in office.

In a Friday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Taylor blasted critics of Vindman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

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In this photo posted on the U.S. Embassy Kiev Twitter account on May 31, 2019, National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman prepares to lay flowers in honor of fallen Ukrainian soldiers. (U.S. Embassy Kiev Twitter account via AP)
National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

The first witnesses who were on the July 25th phone call that’s at the center of the impeachment inquiry to publicly testify are Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer and national security council staffer, and Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer stationed in the Vice President’s office.

Appearing in uniform, Vindman expressed to lawmakers his alarm at what he described as a concerted effort by Trump’s allies to bend U.S. policy in Ukraine to personally benefit Trump.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"I was concerned by the call, what I heard was improper, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg. It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent. It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region."

Williams, a State Department official assigned to Mike Pence's team, testified that she found the call unusual.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) AIDE TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE, JENNIFER WILLIAMS, SAYING:

"I found the July 25th phone call unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter."

Vindman also described a meeting between Ukrainian officials and US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland and national security advisor John Bolton.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"We fully anticipated the Ukrainians would raise the issue of a meeting between the two presidents. Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short when Ambassador Sondland started to speak about the requirement that Ukraine deliver specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with President Trump. Following this meeting, there was a short debriefing during which Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance of Ukraine delivering the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Ambassador Sondland that this was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security."

Vindman, a Ukrainian-born American citizen and decorated Iraq war veteran, has been the subject of attacks by Trump’s allies, and called a Never Trumper by the president. On Tuesday, Vindman added a personal note at the end of his opening statement.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United State of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."

When questions shifted to the Republicans, ranking Republican Devin Nunes used his time to find out the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the inquiry than defending the president's alleged misdeeds.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. DEVIN NUNES, SAYING:

"Lt. Col. Vindman did you discuss the July 25th phone call with anyone outside the White House on July 25th or the 26th, and if so, with whom?"

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"Yes, I did….an individual in the intelligence community."

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. DEVIN NUNES, SAYING:

"As you know…the intelligence community has 17 different agencies. What agency was this individual from?"

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. ADAM SCHIFF, SAYING::

“If I could interject here. We don’t want to use these proceedings…We need to protect the whistleblower. I want to make sure there is no effort to out the whistleblower throughout these proceedings.”

Nunes also pushed an unfounded theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. DEVIN NUNES, SAYING:

“In these depositions and hearings Republicans have cited numerous instances of Ukraine meddling in the 2016 elections to oppose the Trump campaign."

Under questioning from the Democrats’ side, Vindman shot that down.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL DANIEL GOLDMAN, SAYING:

“Are you also aware that Vladimir Putin had promoted this theory of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election?”

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

“I am well aware of that fact.”

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL DANIEL GOLDMAN, SAYING:

“And ultimately which country did the U.S. intelligence services determine to have interfered in the 2016?”

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

“It’s the consensus of the entire intelligence community that the Russians interfered in U.S. elections in 2016.”

More witnesses are expected to testify throughout the week.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council Director for European Affairs takes a break as he testifies during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from Jennifer Williams, adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for European and Russian affairs, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, during the third day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, who House Democrats say withheld U.S. military aid for Ukraine in exchange for Ukrainian investigations of his political rivals. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin - Pool/Getty Images)
National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman arrives for a closed-door deposition at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on October 29, 2019. - Vindman plans to tell Congress Tuesday that he witnessed efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate President Donald Trump's rival Joe Biden, and that he reported it as a national security risk. Vindman will be the first White House official to testify to the House impeachment inquiry that Trump and allied diplomats improperly pressured the Ukraine government to open investigations designed to help Trump politically. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 29: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs at the National Security Council, arrives in the Capitol Visitor Center for his deposition related to the House's impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, October 29, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images),
National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman leaves the hearing room during a break from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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"It of course bothers me any time I see someone like Masha Yovanovitch or Alex Vindman unfairly attacked," Taylor told Tapper.

Trump recalled Yovanovitch from her post in Kyiv in May after complaints from Giuliani and others outside of the administration.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Like Vindman, Yovanovitch was portrayed by the president’s supporters as a “Never Trumper.”

“There's a reason why she got fired,” Rep. Devin Nunes, D-Calif., said in an interview Thursday evening. “This is one of the things we could never really get out because we couldn't bring in witnesses, but you know, we had people that we were ready to bring in that said that she was anti-Trump, espousing anti-Trump administration views while she was ambassador to Ukraine. That’s her boss.”

In an op-ed published Thursday in the Washington Post, Yovanovitch, who is now senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University, took issue with the Trump administration’s handling of diplomacy.

“This administration, through acts of omission and commission, has undermined our democratic institutions, making the public question the truth and leaving public servants without the support and example of ethical behavior that they need to do their jobs and advance U.S. interests,” Yovanovitch wrote.

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