Beyond just dismissing Democrats’ claims of political retaliation, some Senate Republicans on Monday offered a vigorous defense of President Donald Trump’s unceremonious ouster of two key impeachment witnesses just 48 hours after the Senate voted to acquit him.
“I’d dismiss him for that,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said of House impeachment witness Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman taking a “policy problem” public with his testimony during the impeachment inquiry. In fact, Blunt said he’d have dismissed him “earlier” than Trump did after watching the hearing.
Most of Blunt’s colleagues didn’t go quite so far, but they agreed that Trump was justified in ousting officials. Almost no Republican senator expressed any concern with the the treatment of Vindman or Gordon Sondland, the EU ambassador who also testified in the House inquiry, only to be recalled from his post by the President last week.
“The President has a right to surround himself with individuals he chooses and he trusts and I think it’s totally appropriate for him to do that,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he thought Trump would have carried out the shake-up “way before” Friday, adding that Vindman “wasn’t very loyal.”
Vindman was escorted out of the building by security on Friday and reassigned from his post on the National Security Council. His rotation at the White House, per CNN, was not up until July. The recall of Sondland, who came clean about the pressure campaign after playing a direct role, was also announced on Friday.
For good measure, Vindman’s twin brother and NSC lawyer Yevgeny Vindman was also escorted out of the building Friday, even though he did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry.
The moves earned the administration accusations of retaliation against officials for complying with congressional subpoenas demanding their testimony about the Ukraine matter. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY) sent a request to the inspectors general of various government agencies that they “take immediate action to investigate any and all instances of retaliation against anyone who has made, or in the future makes, protected disclosures of presidential misconduct to Congress or Inspectors General.”
“These attacks are part of a dangerous, growing pattern of retaliation against those who report wrongdoing only to find themselves targeted by the President and subject to his wrath and vindictiveness,” the letter said.
Even as the vast majority of Senate Republicans blew off Democrats’ outrage over the removals on Monday, at least some of them had at least privately expressed concerns about the timing of Trump’s moves.
A handful of Senate Republicans had advised the President against immediately recalling Sondland — who was a major GOP donor before being appointed ambassador to the European Union — the New York Times reported Saturday.
Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) both confirmed the Times’ reporting that they had reached out to the White House about the timing of Sondland’s recall, though Tillis clarified that he had not spoken to the President directly about it.
Johnson said that he would’ve liked Sondland to be able to leave “with dignity.”
Johnson, however, was less sympathetic to Vindman, telling Politico that he did “not respect the way he conducted himself in his office on the NSC staff.”
Only Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), cited in the Times’ report as also lobbying against the removals, took the principled position when talking to reporters Monday that witnesses should not be punished for complying with subpoenas.
“My general position is that anyone who answers a congressional subpoena, comes forward and testifies should not face retaliation,” she said.