In the post-impeachment reverberations, an Army officer and Washington's top envoy to the European Union (EU) who testified against US President Donald Trump, have been removed from their positions.
On Friday, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House where he had worked on the National Security Council as an expert on Ukraine. An Army spokesperson said he was being transferred.
His lawyer called the move an act of revenge by the president, two days after the latter was acquitted by the Senate.
Also ousted on Friday was Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union. He too had testified against Trump.
Sondland said he was told that Trump "intends to recall me effective immediately". That would amount to a dismissal.
With the shadow of an impeachment trial behind him, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire the army officer who gave damning evidence against him.
In a tweet on Saturday the President wrote, "Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about 'Lt. Col.' Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was,"
He was apparently referring to news outlet MSNBC.
"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."
"In other words, 'OUT'."
Trump had earlier told reporters that he was "not happy" with what Alexander Vindman did.
....was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, “OUT”.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2020
The White House also fired Lt Col Yevgeny Vindman, twin brother of Vindman. The two worked at on the National Security Council of the White House.
While Alexander Vindman is a wounded veteran of the Iraq War, his brother, also a lieutenant colonel, is an Army lawyer. The twins' assignments to the White House was to end in July, but they will continue at their rank in the military on other assignments.
To recapitulate, in July 2019, President Donald Trump made a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that came under the scanner later in the year. A whistleblower alleged that the President had used his office to put undue pressure on the other country.
As the matter escalated, Democrats charged Trump in December with pressuring Ukraine to smear former US Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 White House rival from the Opposition Democratic Party.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the articles of impeachment on December 18 after charging Trump with pressuring Ukraine to smear former US vice president Joe Biden, a potential Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential election, using nearly USD 400 million in military aid as leverage.
Though Trump, 73, has been acquitted, he will become the first impeached president to seek re-election.
Vindman was present during a now famous July 25 phone call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden.
House Democrats who impeached Trump over allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress argued that the call was part of a concerted effort to coerce a weak foreign ally at war with Russia into helping him cheat in November's presidential election.
Subpoenaed by Congress to testify at the House impeachment hearings, the Ukrainian-born Vindman, who received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in Iraq, had called Trump's actions "improper."
That testimony helped build the case leading to Trump becoming only the third president ever impeached by Congress.
(With inputs from agencies)