Trump removes officials who testified against him in impeachment trial

The US president has said he is still bitter as he turns his attention to winning a second term in November this year

epa08201358 US President Donald J. Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House after returning by Marine One, in Washington, DC, USA, 07 February 2020. Trump returns from North Carolina after delivering remarks at the Opportunity Now Summit.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
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US President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed senior government officials who had testified against him in his impeachment probe, including ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.

"I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union," Mr Sondland said in a statement obtained by The New York Times.

The ambassador had testified that President Trump sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine, the intended recipient of nearly $400 million (Dh 1.5 billion) in military assistance that the White House had put on hold.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, file photo, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. President Donald Trump has ousted Sondland, who gave damaging testimony in impeachment inquiry.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Mr Sondland was recalled from his post hours after President Trump pushed out Lt Col Alexander Vindman from his White House job on the National Security Council.

Lt Col Vindman was present during the July 25 phone call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden.

Lt Col Vindman testified to the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry in November that Mr Trump made an improper demand of the Ukrainian president in a July phone call that became the centrepiece of the probe of the Republican president.

"There is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House,” Lawyer David Pressman said.

Lt Col Vindman told a Democratic-run committee "I couldn't believe what I was hearing" in the phone call. Mr Trump asked President Zelenskiy to launch investigations into both Democratic rival Joe Biden and a widely debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

During that appearance, Lt Col Vindman downplayed concerns that he would suffer payback for speaking out. "I will be fine for telling the truth," he said.

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2019, file photo National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. Vindman was escorted out of the White House complex on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, according to his lawyer. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

But Mr Vindman was escorted out of the White House, with his lawyer calling the move an act of revenge by the president.

"Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth," Mr Pressman said.

Hours earlier, Mr Trump had said he wanted Lt Col Vindman gone.

"I'm not happy with him," Mr Trump, who was acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, told reporters.

"You think I'm supposed to be happy with him?" he said. "I'm not."

Lt Col Vindman's two-year stint at the White House was due to end in July.

Yevgeny Vindman, also an Army lieutenant colonel, worked for the NSC as a lawyer.

An Army spokesperson said both brothers had been reassigned to the Army, but declined to provide further information "out of respect for their privacy".

A spokesman for the security council declined to comment.

Representative Eliot Engel, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision to remove Alexander Vindman was "shameful."

"This president believes the only loyalty that matters is loyalty to him personally," Mr Engel said in a written statement.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that the Pentagon protects all service members from retribution.

Another senior white House aide who testified over impeachment, Jennifer Williams, left this week for a post at the US military's Central Command, according to Bloomberg News.

Mr Trump has cast both Alexander Vindman and Ms Williams as "Never Trumpers" who oppose him.

President Trump, who became only the third US president to be impeached, has said he is still bitter as he turns his attention to seeking a second four-year term in the November 3 presidential election.