Alexander Vindman, Key Impeachment Witness, 'Escorted' From White House

Feb 7, 2020
Originally published on February 7, 2020 5:12 pm
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President Trump took a victory lap yesterday celebrating his acquittal on impeachment. Today, two key witnesses in his impeachment hearings have lost their jobs. European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who played a central role in the Ukraine scandal, has been recalled, we are learning tonight. And earlier today, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House. NPR's Franco Ordoñez is here with the details. Franco, can you just start with how these firings unfolded?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Yeah, there were rumblings that Vindman would be leaving earlier today. President Trump was actually asked about it this morning. Here's what he said.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I'm not happy with him. You think I'm supposed to be happy with him? I'm not. They'll make that decision.

ORDOÑEZ: Then this afternoon, Vindman's lawyer issued a statement. David Pressman said, quote, "there is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over." He said Vindman paid the price for testifying at the hearing. Pressman also said that Vindman's twin brother, a senior lawyer at the NSC, was also marched off the grounds with no explanation. And then tonight, news broke about Ambassador Sondland. Sondland was a Trump donor. He issued a statement that he was recalled and thanked the president for the opportunity.

I should just note that the National Security Council told me that they don't comment on personnel matters.

CORNISH: And for the context here with Ambassador Sondland, what role did he play in the impeachment hearings?

ORDOÑEZ: Sondland was one of those, quote, "three amigos" who worked with the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on Ukraine policy. He did that outside the normal channels. He famously said that, quote, "everyone was in the loop on the Ukraine affair." But his comments were also used by Republicans to defend Trump. He said at one point that Trump told him that he wanted nothing from Ukraine and no quid pro quo.

CORNISH: Can you talk about Lt. Col. Vindman - his role?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Vindman oversaw American policy toward Ukraine on the National Security Council. He listened in on President Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. And, you know, Vindman testified, you may remember, in his dress uniform. And he struck quite a figure on television. He said that he had no doubt that Trump was demanding that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in return for an Oval Office visit.

CORNISH: In the meantime, the other people who testified in the hearing - I know now people are probably wondering what happened to them.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, quite a number of them have left. There's former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. NPR reported last week that she has now retired from the foreign service. William Taylor, who replaced her after Trump removed Yovanovitch - he left in early January. There's also Kurt Volker. He was the special envoy to Ukraine and resigned as the impeachment process was unfolding. And Tim Morrison of the NSC - he left his job right after he testified. He actually was Vindman's boss at the NSC. So Vindman and Sondland - they were just the latest to join this long list of departures.

CORNISH: And we should note Vindman's brother as well was also escorted from the White House.

ORDOÑEZ: That's correct.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.