By David Brunnstrom and Brad Heath
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the ouster of impeachment witness Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from the White House National Security Council, calling him “insubordinate” and saying he had incorrectly reported the contents of Trump’s “perfect” telephone calls.
Vindman was one of two witnesses who provided some of the most damaging testimony during Trump’s impeachment investigation who were ousted by the administration on Friday.
Trump tweeted that “Fake News” media kept “talking about ‘Lt. Col.’ Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was.
“Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly,” Trump said.
Trump added that Vindman was “given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgment, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, ‘OUT’.”
Hours after Vindman was escorted from the White House on Friday, Gordon Sondland, another key impeachment witness, said he had been ousted from his post as U.S ambassador to the European Union.
Vindman was among officials who listened to a July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine’s president, Volodimir Zelenskiy. That conversation was at the center of the impeachment probe. Vindman testified that he went immediately to the NSC’s chief lawyer to express concern about it.
Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman, rejected the president’s statements about his client as “obviously false.”
“They conflict with the clear personnel record and the entirety of the impeachment record of which the President is well aware,” he said in a statement.
“While the most powerful man in the world continues his campaign of intimidation, while too many entrusted with political office continue to remain silent, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman continues his service to our country as a decorated, active duty member of our military.”The Pentagon referred a request for comment on Trump’s tweets to the Army, which repeated a statement from Friday that both Vindman and his brother had been reassigned to the Department of the Army.
“Out of respect for their privacy, we will not be providing any further information at this time,” an Army spokesman said.
Vindman’s twin brother Yevgeny, who worked as a lawyer at the NSC and is also a lieutenant colonel, was also escorted out of the White House on Friday.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump, a Republican, on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his dealings with Ukraine, but he was acquitted by the Republican-dominated Senate on Wednesday.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Brad Heath and Karen Freifeld in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and David Gregorio)