Payback: Trump Ousts Officials Who Testified on Impeachment
WASHINGTON (AP) — Exacting swift punishment against those who crossed him, an emboldened President Donald Trump on Friday ousted two government officials who had delivered damaging testimony against him during his impeachment hearings. The president took retribution just two days after his acquittal by the Senate.
First came news that Trump had ousted Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated soldier and national security aide who played a central role in the Democrats’ impeachment case. Vindman’s lawyer said his client was escorted out of the White House complex Friday, told to leave in retaliation for “telling the truth.”
“The truth has cost Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy,” attorney David Pressman said in a statement. Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, also was asked to leave his job as a White House lawyer on Friday, the Army said in a statement. Both men were reassigned to the Army.
Next came word that Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, also was out.
“I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union,” Sondland said in a statement.
The White House had not been coy about whether Trump would retaliate against those he viewed as foes in the impeachment drama. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Thursday that Trump was glad it was over and “maybe people should pay for that.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Vindman’s ouster was “a clear and brazen act of retaliation that showcases the President’s fear of the truth. The President’s vindictiveness is precisely what led Republican Senators to be accomplices to his cover-up.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called it “the Friday Night Massacre,” likening the situation to President Richard Nixon’s so-called Saturday night massacre, when top Justice Department officials resigned after refusing to do his bidding by firing a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. (The prosecutor himself was fired anyway.)
Speier added in her tweet, “I’m sure Trump is fuming that he can’t fire Pelosi.”
Senate Republicans, who just two days prior acquitted Trump of charges he abused his office, were silent Friday evening. Many of them had reacted with indignation during the Senate trial when Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor, suggested Trump would be out for revenge against the lawmakers who crossed him during impeachment.
Since his acquittal, Trump has held nothing back in lashing out at his critics, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to vote against him. On Friday, he also took after Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia whom Trump had hoped would vote with the Republicans for his acquittal but who ended up voting to convict.
Trump tweeted that he was “very surprised & disappointed” with Manchin’s votes, claiming no president had done more for his state. He added that Manchin was “just a puppet” for the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
It was Alexander Vindman who first told the House that in America “right matters” — a phrase repeated in the impeachment trial by lead prosecutor Schiff.
Sondland, too, was a crucial witness in the House impeachment inquiry, telling investigators￼ that “Everyone was in the loop” on Trump’s desire to press Ukraine for politically charged investigations￼. He told lawmakers how he came to understand that there was a “quid pro quo” ￼connecting a desired White House visit for Ukraine’s leader and an announcement that the country would￼ conduct the investigations the president wanted.
Sondland “chose to be terminated rather than resign,” according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Alexander Vindman’s lawyer issued a one-page statement that accused Trump of taking revenge on his client.
“He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, and he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril,” Pressman said. “And for that, the most powerful man in the world — buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit — has decided to exact revenge.”
The White House did not respond to Pressman’s accusation. “We do not comment on personnel matters,” said John Ullyot, spokesman for the National Security Council, the foreign policy arm of the White House where Vindman was an expert on Ukraine.
The Democrats angling to replace Trump took notice of Vindman’s ouster during their evening debate in Manchester, New Hampshire. Former Vice President Joe Biden asked the audience to stand and applaud the lieutenant colonel.
Vindman’s status had been uncertain since he testified that he didn’t think it was “proper” for Trump to “demand that a foreign government investigate” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings with the energy company Burisma in Ukraine. Vindman’s ouster, however, seemed imminent after Trump mocked him Thursday during his post-acquittal celebration with Republican supporters in the East Room and said Friday that he was not happy with him.
“You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “I’m not. … They are going to be making that decision.”
Vindman, a 20-year Army veteran, wore his uniform full of medals, including a purple heart, when he appeared late last year for what turned out to be a testy televised impeachment hearing. Trump supporters raised questions about the immigrant’s allegiance to the United States — his parents fled the Soviet Union when he was a child —and noted that he had received offers to work for the government of Ukraine, offers Vindman said he swiftly dismissed.
In gripping testimony, Vindman told the House of his family’s story, his father bringing them to the U.S. some 40 years ago.
“Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” he testified. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”’
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, recalled Vindman’s testimony that he would be fine and tweeted, “It’s appalling that this administration may prove him wrong.”
Some of Trump’s backers cheered Vindman’s removal.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., tweeted that Vindman “should not be inside the National Security Council any longer. It’s not about retaliation. It’s because he cannot be trusted, he disagrees with the President’s policies, & his term there is coming to an end regardless.”
News that both Vindman twins had been ousted led Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., to tweet, “The White House is running a two for one special today on deep state leakers.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked what the Pentagon would do to ensure that Vindman faces no retribution. “We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that,” Esper said. “We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means.”
Alexander Vindman is scheduled to enter a military college in Washington, D.C., this summer, and his brother is to be assigned to the Army General Counsel’s Office, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried Slams Ron DeSantis for Coddling Insurrectionists
- It was Jan. 6, 2021, and a group of die-hard Republicans from Okaloosa County, Florida, had traveled 15 hours north to Washington, for a rally where President Donald Trump urged his followers to try to stop the certification of the election.
- After the rally, as a crowd marched toward the Capitol, some of the Florida contingent peeled off. But Sandra Atkinson – who had just been elected chair of the county’s Republican Party – kept marching.
- According to a USA TODAY review of multiple videos from the day and an interview with a close Republican Party associate, Atkinson proceeded to the Capitol and through the doors. The same kind of activity has led to criminal charges for many who stormed the Capitol Jan. 6 – charges for unlawful entry, picketing or other nonviolent acts.
- Two months later, Atkinson’s name emerged in bold type, in an announcement from DeSantis. She was being given a new job: The governor was appointing her to a statewide regulatory board.
- Giving a political appointment then to a Jan. 6 participant puts DeSantis’ core political dilemma in sharp focus now.
- The governor, who is expected to enter the race for the presidential nomination this week, said nothing during Atkinson’s appointment about her role in the insurrection, which was spurred by his main political rival: Trump. His office now declines to answer any questions about what DeSantis knew about Atkinson before her appointment or during her time as a regulator.
- Contacted by USA TODAY, Atkinson at first denied she had entered the Capitol. She then said she declined to comment. But to others, her role in Jan. 6 was no secret.
- Sherri Edwards Cox, who has long served with Atkinson on the Okaloosa County GOP committee, also marched in Washington, though she says she went back to her hotel rather than into the Capitol. Cox told USA TODAY Atkinson later bragged about going into the building, and claimed to have entered the office of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
- Atkinson’s apparent role in the insurrection does not appear to have interfered with her public role as an influential North Florida Republican. She was reelected chairwoman of the Okaloosa County GOP in December 2022. And she remained in the state oversight role DeSantis had given her for nearly a year.
- Even when she did finally depart the board, there was no public discussion of her activity on Jan. 6.
- Among the thousands of demonstrators marching for Trump Jan. 6, and the many of them who ultimately stormed the Capitol, it can be hard to isolate a specific face or name. But a collection of evidence points to Atkinson’s presence inside the building.
- Atkinson’s trip to Washington for the rally was also well-known. She was one of the chief organizers of the local caravan to Washington. (In March 2021, when a man from Okaloosa County was arrested for entering the Capitol, Atkinson distanced herself from him, saying she didn’t know him and that he didn’t travel with her group.)
- DeSantis’ office repeatedly declined to answer questions from USA TODAY about what it knew about Atkinson, why he appointed her, and why she later left the board.
Attorney General Moody Highlights Support Resources for LEOs During National Police Week and Mental Health Awareness Month
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—In recognition of National Police Week and Mental Health Awareness Month, Attorney General Ashley Moody is highlighting available resources for Florida law enforcement officers. Statistics show, in previous years, that law enforcement officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. According to BlueHelp.org, the national law enforcement suicide rate increased in 2022—however, Florida’s rate decreased. In an effort to further protect Florida’s officers, Attorney General Moody is encouraging any first responder struggling with mental health issues to seek help.
Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “We received some encouraging news this National Police Week and Mental Health Awareness Month. The suicide rate among Florida law enforcement officers declined last year. I want to thank all the mental health experts in Florida who focus efforts on helping our first responders who struggle with the mental health issues brought on because of their service to others. I also encourage anyone struggling to seek help. There are caring professionals available 24/7 who want to help.”
Crisis Center of Tampa Bay President & CEO Clara Reynolds said, “The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay would not be able to support the community to the extent that it does without partnering with local law enforcement agencies. We are so appreciative of their support of the victims of assault they bring to our door, the interventions they provide when someone is contemplating taking their life, and the numerous other ways they step in to keep us all safe. Thank you for choosing this very vital but difficult work each and every day.”
Law enforcement officers face challenging work daily that can take a serious toll on mental health. The Blue H.E.L.P. program seeks to bring awareness to suicide and mental health issues law enforcement officers face. The program, created by Karen Soloman and Jeffrey McGill, offers mental health education, advocates for law enforcement officers and their families and recognizes those lost to mental health causes.
Attorney General Moody wants all law enforcement officers struggling with mental health issues to know that help is available. There are caring people available 24/7 who understand the struggles and challenges that often accompany protecting the public from danger and violence.
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is a nonprofit organization developed in 1972 to offer comprehensive services to people in the Tampa Bay community through collaboration and partnerships. With more than 10 different programs that offer a wide range of services and resources to all individuals, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is determined to ensure no one in the Tampa Bay community has to face a crisis alone. To learn more, click here.
Since taking office, Attorney General Moody continues to take action to support Florida law enforcement officer mental health, including:
- Urging Congress to pass the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022: Last year, Attorney General Moody, joined by 52 other attorneys general, urged Congress to pass the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022. The legislation addresses gaps in support for public safety officers who suffer from PTSD associated with the high-risk nature of their jobs. To learn more, click here.
- Presented a Back the Blue Award to an Officer for Supporting Mental Health Awareness: Attorney General Moody presented a Back the Blue Award to a Tallahassee Police Department officer who co-wrote a book with information on mental health awareness and treatment strategies for first responders. Officer Sean Wyman co-authored Going Beyond the Call: Mental Health Fitness for Public Safety Professionals. The book focuses on social-emotional trauma, stress impacts and communication strategies to reduce the number of suicides within the public safety industry. To learn more, click here.
- Recognizing CCTB’s Law Enforcement Suicide Help Line: Attorney General Moody presented a Florida Cabinet resolution recognizing National Suicide Prevention Month in Florida in September 2019. Attorney General Moody then visited CCTB to recognize the then-pilot program called “First to Respond, Last to Ask For Help.” At the time, the program served officers in Hillsborough County with a help line to call for immediate, confidential support. Now, the help line is extended statewide—any officer in the state needing assistance can call 1(866) 4FL-HERO.
Law enforcement officers who are suffering and need help should immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. Law enforcement officers wishing to speak to someone can also call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s helpline at 1(866) 4FL-HERO to be connected to an individual for immediate and confidential support. To learn more about the help line, visit LastToAsk.com.
Kari Lake’s lawyers fined in failed Arizona election lawsuit
PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Kari Lake’s lawyers were sanctioned $2,000 Thursday by the Arizona Supreme Court in their unsuccessful challenge of her defeat in the governor’s race last year to Democrat Katie Hobbs.
In an order, the state’s highest court said Lake’s attorney made “false factual statements” that more than 35,000 ballots had been improperly added to the total ballot count. They have 10 days to submit the payment to the court clerk.
The court, however, refused to order Lake to pay attorney fees to cover the costs of defending Hobbs and Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, also a Democrat, in Lake’s appeal.
Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said Lake’s challenge over signature verification remains unresolved.
Hobbs and Fontes said Lake and her attorneys should face sanctions for baselessly claiming that over 35,000 ballots were inserted into the race at a facility where a contractor scanned mail-in ballots to prepare them for county election workers to process and count.
When the high court first confronted Lake’s challenge in late March, justices said the evidence doesn’t show that over 35,000 ballots were added to the vote count in Maricopa County, home to more than 60% of the state’s voters.
Lawyers for Hobbs and Fontes told the court that Lake and her lawyers misrepresented evidence and are hurting the elections process by continuing to push baseless claims of election fraud. Attorneys for Fontes asked for the court to order Lake’s lawyers to forfeit any money they might have earned in making the appeal, arguing that they shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from their own misconduct.
Lake’s lawyers said sanctions weren’t appropriate because no one can doubt that Lake honestly believes her race was determined by electoral misconduct.
Lake, who lost to Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes, was among the most vocal 2022 Republican candidates promoting former President Donald Trump’s election lies, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign. While most other election deniers around the country conceded after losing their races in November, Lake did not.
In her challenge, Lake focused on problems with ballot printers at some polling places in Maricopa County.
The defective printers produced ballots that were too light to be read by the on-site tabulators at polling places. Lines backed up in some areas amid the confusion. Lake alleged ballot printer problems were the result of intentional misconduct.
County officials say everyone had a chance to vote and all ballots were counted because those affected by the printers were taken to more sophisticated counters at election headquarters.
The state Supreme Court declined on March 22 to hear nearly all of Lake’s appeal, saying there was no evidence that 35,000 ballots were added to vote totals.
Still, the high court revived Lake’s claim that challenged the application of signature verification procedures on early ballots in Maricopa County. The court sent the claim back to a lower-court judge to consider. This latest order will allow a trial court to resume litigating the matter.
In mid-February, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected Lake’s assertions, concluding she presented no evidence that voters whose ballots were unreadable by tabulators at polling places were not able to vote.
Lake’s attorneys said the chain of custody for ballots was broken at an off-site facility where a contractor scans mail-in ballots to prepare them for processing. The lawyers asserted that workers put their own mail-in ballots into the pile rather than returning them through normal channels, and that paperwork documenting ballot transfers was missing. The county disputes the claims.
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