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Payback: Trump Ousts Officials Who Testified on Impeachment

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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)

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.

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Dems reshuffle primaries to stress diversity over tradition

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Democratic Party on Saturday approved reordering its 2024 presidential primary, replacing Iowa with South Carolina in the leadoff spot as part of a major shake-up meant to empower Black and other minority voters critical to its base of support.

Although more changes are possible later this year, the formal endorsement by the Democratic National Committee during its meeting in Philadelphia is an acknowledgement that the start of the 2024 primary will look very different from the one in 2020. Hundreds of party stalwarts climbed to their feet and cheered after the easy passage by voice vote.

States with early contests play a major role in determining the nominee because White House hopefuls struggling to raise money or gain political traction often drop out before visiting states outside the first five. Media attention and policy debates concentrate in those areas, too.

The new plan was championed by President Joe Biden, who is expected to formally announce his reelection campaign in the coming months. The reconfiguring would have South Carolina hold its primary on Feb. 3, followed three days later by New Hampshire and Nevada, which is swapping the caucus it used to hold in favor of a primary.

Georgia would vote fourth on Feb. 13, followed by Michigan on Feb. 27, with much of the rest of the nation set to vote on Super Tuesday in early March.

“The Democratic Party looks like America and so does this proposal,” said DNC chair Jaime Harrison, a South Carolinian. The change “continues to make us stronger and elevates the backbone of our party,” he said.

Biden wrote the DNC rules committee in December, saying, “We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window.” That committee approved the new lineup, setting up Saturday’s vote.

The move remakes the current calendar, which saw Iowa start with its caucus, followed by New Hampshire and then Nevada and South Carolina. The Republican Party has voted not to change its 2024 primary order, meaning the campaign has already began in Iowa.

“The DNC has decided to break a half-century precedent and cause chaos by altering their primary process, and ultimately abandoning millions of Americans in Iowa and New Hampshire,” Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement Saturday.

Four of the first five new states under Democrats’ new plan are battlegrounds, meaning the eventual party winner would be able to lay groundwork in important general election spots. That’s especially true for Michigan and Georgia, both of which voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016 before flipping to Biden in 2020.

The exception is South Carolina, which hasn’t backed a Democrat in a presidential race since 1976, leading some to argue that the party shouldn’t be concentrating so many early primary resources there. But the state’s population is nearly 27% Black, and African American voters represent Democrats’ most consistent base of support. Iowa and New Hampshire are each more than 90% white.

The revamped calendar could be largely meaningless for 2024 because Biden is expected to run for a second term without a major primary challenge. Also, the DNC has already pledged to revisit the voting calendar before the 2028 presidential election.

Still, this year’s changes could establish precedent, just as a new lineup that moved Nevada and South Carolina into the first states to vote did when the DNC approved a new primary calendar before the 2008 presidential election.

“These things may be symbolic, but they’re realistic,” South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, assistant Democratic leader in the House and a close Biden ally, told The Associated Press.

The new order follows technical glitches that caused Iowa’s 2020 caucus to meltdown. It also gives Biden the chance to repay South Carolina, where he scored a decisive 2020 primary win that revived his presidential campaign after losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Democrats have worked on overhauling their primary lineup for months. On Saturday, nearly an hour of final debate turned raw at times.

Some Black members of the DNC said those arguing to abide by tradition could be seen as implying that states with larger African American populations were incapable of handling the responsibility of going early in the primary.

“If we’re really a family, it means some of y’all got to shift to make room at the table for others,” said Leah Daughtry, a DNC rules committee member from New York.

Iowa Democratic Party chair Rita Hart argued that Republicans in her state were already accusing Democrats of “have turned their back on Iowa and on rural America.” But Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, to sustained applause, countered: “No one state should have a lock on going first.”

Despite the approval, the final slate is not yet set. South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan have met party requirements to join the party’s new top five. But in Georgia may not change its Democratic primary calendar date without the Republicans also doing so.

Iowa argued that continued uncertainty could cause other states to try and jump ahead of the new DNC calendar, as happened before the 2008 presidential race. The new rules include penalties for states trying to move up without permission, including possibly losing delegates to the party’s national convention.

New Hampshire has a state law mandating that it hold the nation’s first presidential primary, which Iowa circumvented since 1972 by holding a caucus. New Hampshire Democrats have joined with top state Republicans in pledging to go forward with the nation’s first presidential primary next year regardless of the DNC calendar.

No major challenger has yet emerged from his own party to run against Biden for president next year. Still, top New Hampshire Democrats have warned that another Democrat could run in an unsanctioned primary the state stages and, if Biden skips it in accordance with party rules, could win and embarrass the president — prolonging a primary process that wasn’t supposed to be competitive.

“Respecting our state law and lifting up diverse voices need not be mutually exclusive,” said Joanne Dowdell, a DNC rules committee member from New Hampshire.

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Trump impeachment leader Schiff joins California Senate race

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who rose to national prominence as the lead prosecutor in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, said Thursday he is running for the Senate seat held by long-serving Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

The 2024 race is quickly emerging as a marquee Senate contest, even though the 89-year-old Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress, has yet to announce if she will seek another term, though her retirement is widely expected. Schiff is jumping in two weeks after Rep. Katie Porter became the first candidate to declare her campaign for the safe Democratic seat.

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, made clear he intends to anchor his candidacy to his role as Trump’s chief antagonist in Congress. In his campaign kickoff video, he said the “biggest job of his life” was serving as impeachment manager, and he promised to continue to be a “fighter” for democracy.

“If our democracy isn’t delivering for Americans, they’ll look for alternatives, like a dangerous demagogue who promises that he alone can fix it,” Schiff said of Trump, who has announced his 2024 campaign for the presidency.

Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor who joined the Senate in 1992, told reporters in Washington this week that she will make a decision about 2024 in the “next couple of months.”

The jockeying for the seat has created a politically awkward dynamic for Feinstein, who has broken gender barriers throughout her decadeslong career in local and national politics. In recent years, questions have arisen about her cognitive health and memory, though she has defended her effectiveness in representing a state that is home to nearly 40 million people.

Schiff, 62, said in an interview Thursday that he had spoken to Feinstein a day earlier to inform her about his plans.

“I want to make sure that everything I did was respectful of her and that I did so with her knowledge and her blessing,” Schiff told The Associated Press.

Asked if he was aware of the senator’s plans, Schiff said, “I don’t want to presume to speak for Sen. Feinstein, and I think she’s earned the right to announce her decision when she’s ready to make that announcement.”

Schiff was first elected to Congress in 2000 and represents parts of Hollywood. He has been a frequent target of conservatives — Trump in particular — since the then-GOP-led House Intelligence Committee he served on started investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the 2016 election. Schiff appeared frequently on television to question Trump’s actions.

That criticism intensified when Democrats took the House majority in early 2019 and he became the committee chair, and it reached a full-on roar with his role in the impeachment investigation of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Trump was impeached in December 2019 on charges he abused the power of the presidency to investigate rival Joe Biden and obstructed Congress’ investigation.

In an impassioned plea to the Senate in early 2020, Schiff urged Trump’s removal from office and framed the choice in moral terms. “If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost,” he said at the time.

“You know you can’t trust this president do what’s right for this country,” Schiff said. “You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months, he’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters.”

The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump of both charges. In 2021, he became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, this time for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after he lost the 2020 election. He was again acquitted by the Senate.

Republicans are still angry about Schiff’s starring role at the impeachment trial, with new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accusing him of using his leadership position to “lie to the American public again and again.” McCarthy, R-Calif., said this week that he intended to block Schiff from continuing his service on the House Intelligence Committee.

With the centrist Feinstein in the twilight of her career, the race in the heavily Democratic state already is shaping up as a showcase for an ambitious, younger generation on the party’s left wing.

Both Schiff and Porter are nationally recognized — Schiff through his leading impeachment role and Porter, a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, through her tough questioning of CEOs and other witnesses at congressional hearings. Each is also a formidable small-dollar fundraiser.

Neither has run statewide before, and each would face the challenge of becoming better known beyond their Southern California districts. Democrats are expected to dominate the contest — a Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in California since 2006, and the past two Senate elections had only Democrats on the November ballot.

The field is expected to grow, with other possible contenders including Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Asked how he would stand out in what is expected to be a crowded field, Schiff said he would emphasize his central role of national struggles over democracy and the economy.

“I think that record of leadership, that record of staunch defense of our democracy, and the way that I’ve championed an economy that works for everyone, I think are a powerful record to run on,” he said.

In his announcement video, Schiff mixed shots of his family and highlights from his courtroom work with video from the impeachment proceedings and clips of Trump and other Republicans.

He warns that the threat of extremism is not over.

“Today’s Republican Party is gutting the middle class, threatening our democracy” Schiff says. “They aren’t going to stop. We have to stop them.”

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Florida House Democrats React to House Bill 1 Passing its First Committee

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In response to the committee vote referring House Bill 1 to its next House committee, Florida House Democrats provided the following statements.

“While I am disappointed my third amendment was not accepted to give Florida’s families the accountability and transparency they deserve so they make the right choice for their children, we will continue working with our Republican counterparts to ensure no student gets left behind,” said Choice and Innovation Subcommittee Democratic Ranking Member Representative Susan L. Valdés (D-Tampa).

“Today’s committee hearing hosted a robust discussion about policy and finance, but we need to realize that is ultimately about the children,” said Representative Kevin Chambliss (D-Homestead). “Each child is different and unique, especially those with disabilities. Every child deserves quality education, and I sincerely hope we can work together to put our children before the politics of the bill.”

“Today’s vote is disappointing. While there is definitely room for innovation in the public-school system, the negative fiscal impact on public schools will be felt on the back of public school students,” said Representative Katherine Waldron (D-Wellington).

This morning’s Choice and Innovation Subcommittee hearing can be replayed any time via The Florida Channel’s archive.

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