Trump's 'Retaliation' Against Impeachment Witnesses Spurs Call to Investigate Amid Fierce Criticism

President Donald Trump's decision last week to fire two witnesses who worked for the administration and who testified in the House's impeachment inquiry last year has spurred calls for an investigation, in addition to sharp, bipartisan criticism.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council (NSC), and Gordan Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, were fired from their posts Friday. Vindman, along with his twin brother, who also worked for the NSC but did not testify, were escorted from the White House and Sondland was recalled from his post abroad.

Vindman, although ousted from his position at the White House, will still be working for the Pentagon.

The move spawned swift criticism, with Democrats comparing the act to that of former President Richard Nixon by dubbing it the "Friday Night Massacre," a nod to Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" when he ousted several officials investigating him for the Watergate break-in and the subsequent cover-up. Others labeled it "shameful" and "disgraceful."

Just prior to the impeachment witnesses' ouster on Friday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who ultimately voted for Trump's acquittal after determining the evidence did not meet the high threshold for removal from office, defended her vote and said she would be opposed to any "retribution."

"I obviously am not in favor of any kind of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence," she told local reporters at an event in Maine.

impeachment witness retribution spurs call for investigation
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council Director for European Affairs, and his brother Leonid Vindman exit Longworth House Office Building after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee during the second week of impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump on November 19, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday requested all federal government watchdogs to "investigate any and all instances of retaliation against anyone who has made, or in the future makes, protected disclosures of presidential misconduct to Congress or Inspectors General."

The request was sent in a letter to the inspector general of the Defense Department, as well as all 74 federal inspectors general.

"These attacks are part of a dangerous, growing pattern of retaliation against those who report wrongdoing only to find themselves targeted by the president and subject to his wrath and vindictiveness," Schumer said.

The ousting of Vindman and Sondland, both of whom gave damning testimony after they were subpoenaed last year by Congress about Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens while withholding military aid, came just two days after the president was acquitted of both impeachment articles by the Senate.

"LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful," David Pressman, Vindman's attorney, said in a statement. "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. And for that, the most powerful man in the world - buoyed by the silent, the pliable and the complicit - has decided to exact revenge."

Republicans for the Rule of Law, a pro-impeachment group comprised of life-long Republicans, is ridiculing Trump for the firings, specifically that of Vindman. In a new ad that will hit the airwaves on Fox & Friends on Wednesday, the roughly 30-second video praises the Purple Heart recipient and states: "Our military deserves better. Our country deserves better. Lt. Col. Vindman deserves better."

"Ordering subordinates not to comply with duly authorized congressional subpoenas is an offense to the rule of law. Publicly firing them when they comply with the law and tell the truth to Congress is even worse," Sarah Longwell, the executive director for Republicans for the Rule of Law, said in a statement. "But worst of all is taking public revenge against a decorated military hero for standing by his oath to defend the Constitution."

Over the weekend, Trump defended his decision by way of tweets. He characterized Vindman as "very insubordinate" and who "reported contents of my 'perfect' calls incorrectly." Vindman was one of several officials who listened in to the president's infamous July 25 conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart.