Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman
c.2020 The New York Times Company
WASHINGTON — A handful of Republican senators tried to stop President Donald Trump from firing Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who testified in the House impeachment hearings, but the president relieved the diplomat of his post anyway, according to people briefed on the discussions.
The senators were concerned that it would look bad for Trump to dismiss Sondland and argued that it was unnecessary, since the ambassador was already talking with senior officials about leaving after the Senate trial, the people said. The senators told White House officials that Sondland should be allowed to depart on his own terms, which would have reduced any political backlash.
But Trump evidently was not interested in a quiet departure, choosing instead to make a point by forcing Sondland out before the ambassador was ready to go, according to the people informed about the matter.
Sondland’s dismissal was announced just hours after another impeachment witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, were marched out of the White House by security officers and told their services were no longer needed.
The ousters came two days after the Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump on two articles of impeachment stemming from his effort to pressure Ukraine to incriminate Democratic rivals.
Among the Republicans who warned the White House were Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Martha McSally of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The White House did not respond to requests for comment Saturday but a senior administration official confirmed the senators’ outreach.
Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire Vindman, calling the decorated Iraq War veteran “very insubordinate.”
“Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about ‘Lt. Col.’ Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!),” he continued, “but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly, & was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, ‘OUT’.”