Top Ally Defends Trump’s Firing of Two Key Impeachment Witnesses
WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham defended President Donald Trump’s ouster of two witnesses from his administration whom he blames for his impeachment, and suggested he would like to see one of the men questioned further.
Graham, a South Carolina Republican and top Trump ally, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the removal of Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from the White House’s National Security Council “was justified.”
Vindman was escorted from his office on Friday. Also ousted was his twin brother, Vevgeny, an NSC ethics lawyer who didn’t testify in the impeachment proceedings.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was fired Friday as well. Sondland, like other ambassadors, “serves at the pleasure of the president,” Graham said.
Sondland and Alexander Vindman offered damaging details during the impeachment trial about Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. They were dismissed in an act of retribution two days after the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump.
“I don’t think he could be effective at the NSC,” Graham, said of Alexander Vindman, calling his removal a “reassignment.”
Graham suggested without evidence that Vindman may have improperly provided information to an administration whistleblower who first raised concerns about Trump.
“Hopefully somebody will ask questions of you about the role you play with the whistleblower,” Graham said of Vindman. The whistle-blower’s identity has remained largely hidden.
Vindman famously testified to the House that he had told his father, a Soviet-era emigre from Ukraine, “Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Trump on Saturday lashed out at Vindman in a pair of tweets, saying he didn’t know the Purple Heart recipient but that he was “insubordinate.” The president also said without evidence that Vindman had problems with judgment, the chain of command and leaking information. “In other words, ‘OUT.’”
Democratic presidential candidates on Friday lauded Vindman during their debate in New Hampshire. Joe Biden exhorted the audience to “stand up and clap” in support of Vindman. Pete Buttigieg said Trump was “punishing a war hero” while Amy Klobuchar said being a witness “took courage.”
Other government officials who testified against Trump are bracing for reprisals after the president was acquitted by the Senate on Feb. 5.
Trump also railed over the weekend against at least one Democrat who voted for his removal, Sen. Joe Manchin, who represents a state that went heavily for Trump in 2016.
The president said on Twitter that “the great people of West Virginia are furious at their puppet Democrat Senator,” whom he termed “weak & pathetic.”
Manchin responded to Trump, saying West Virginia voters recognize that he, not the president, had worked “day and night for five years to secure their health care and pensions.”
“Where I come from a person accused defends themselves with witnesses and evidence,” Manchin added.
—With assistance from Jeff Kearns.
©2020 Bloomberg News
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