Washington, D.C.

Stefanik: Trump firings of impeachment witnesses Sondland, Vindman weren’t retaliatory

Elise Stefanik in 2018
Elise Stefanik in 2018

GLENS FALLS — Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, this weekend defended President Trump’s decision to ax two of the highest-profile witnesses in his impeachment trial.

Trump’s actions were not retaliatory, she said in an interview with The Daily Gazette Saturday, and political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president.

Stefanik pointed at former Ambassador Gordon D. Sondland’s statement that said he was “grateful” to Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and called his brief stint a “highlight of my career.”

“Lt. Col. [Alexander] Vindman will be transferred somewhere else in the Pentagon,” Stefanik said Saturday in an interview. “Again, the National Security Council serves at the pleasure of the presidents.”

Vindman’s lawyer pinned Vindman’s departure directly to his testimony, contending he was “asked to leave for telling the truth,” according to The New York Times.

“His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful,” said David Pressman, the lawyer.

Trump was impeached by the House on charges of abusing power and obstructing justice and acquitted by the Senate last week. 

Trump fired both witnesses following his acquittal last week, and days after he lashed out in a meandering, hour-long speech to supporters in the White House’s East Room, which Stefanik attended and was praised by the president. 

In his remarks, Trump called his foes “corrupt” and “evil.”

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News Democrats should be held accountable for impeaching the president.

“People should be held accountable for anything they do to try to hurt this country and this president,” Grisham told Fox News.

The New York Times reported on Saturday a handful of Republican senators advised Trump against dismissing Sondland, citing the the optics and that the ambassador was already discussing exit strategies. 

Stefanik questioned both witnesses from her perch on the House Intelligence Committee.

Vindman, a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump allegedly threatened to withhold military aid unless the Ukrainians investigated former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in the country. 

He testified the call was “inappropriate.”

After questioning from Stefanik, Vindman acknowledged Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of the energy company Burisma, “had the potential” for the appearance of a conflict of interest. 

Stefanik questioned Sondland on his understanding of why U.S. military aid was withheld to the Ukraine.

Sondland conceded the aid was ultimately delivered, a measure which Stefanik has used in her defense of the president.

Stefanik opponent Tedra Cobb, a Democrat who is seeking to deny her a fourth-term in November, called Vindman’s termination a “disgrace,” noting the Iraq War veteran is a Purple Heart recipient.

“There is no excuse,” Cobb wrote on Twitter.

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