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What Trump’s firing of two key impeachment witnesses teaches us

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Soviet-born emigre who testified about his President and told impeachment investigators he wasn’t afraid to stand up to authority because he was in the US, not under an authoritarian regime, has been let go from the White House. So has his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, a lawyer for the National Security Council. Another key impeachment witness, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, also has been ousted.

“Here, right matters,” Alexander Vindman had said of the US at the House impeachment hearings, explaining his willingness to stand up, and separating the US from the rest of the world, in the most emotional moment of the hearings. Watch that moment here.

But it is also the least surprising thing in the world.

Vindman knew it was coming. He only learned from news reports of the potential White House plan to fire him late Thursday night, but he’d been steeling himself for this moment since he testified in Trump’s impeachment hearing in November, a source familiar with the events told CNN’s Kristen Holmes.

How did he know? It’s happened before.

Trump is the President who fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general who refused to enact his travel ban, just days after being sworn into office.

Trump is the President who fired James Comey, the FBI director who was investigating his campaign’s contacts with Russia.

Trump is the President who fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director who had worked with Comey. And Trump vilified the man’s wife for being a Democratic candidate for state office. (McCabe is now a CNN contributor.)

He fired Jeff Sessions, eventually, for allowing a special counsel to be appointed. He fired his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, for policy reasons, but it didn’t help that the man had called him a moron. His first defense secretary, James Mattis, quit in protest. And then wrote a strongly worded letter about it.

We could go on.

There are two ways to leave this White House and this administration: Jump or be pushed.

The point is this: Was Trump going to fire Vindman from his position at the White House and have him escorted out of the complex on a Friday after Trump was acquitted by a Republican majority in the Senate? Absolutely. Vindman, because he had been subpoenaed, became the public face of everyone who raised their hand to complain about Trump’s behavior. On Saturday, Trump defended the firing, criticizing Vindman’s work performance and accusing Vindman of “incorrectly” reporting the contents of his calls with Ukraine.

Vindman remains in the military, but being reassigned from the White House isn’t likely to help his career. His time at the National Security Council was going to be up even though the Pentagon promised he would face no retaliation and even though he spoke only once publicly — under subpoena, as his attorney pointed out — about the whole affair, even though he repeatedly raised concerns about Trump’s behavior within the White House.

Was Trump going to fire Sondland, his ambassador to the EU?

Of course he was.

Sondland told the impeachment inquiry that of course there was a quid pro quo between Trump and Ukraine — security aid and a White House meeting desperately sought by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Sondland told the inquiry he didn’t realize at the time that Zelensky investigating Joe Biden was also part of the deal. If he had, he said, he would have raised his own concerns.

But it’s still shocking to read that the President, fresh from his impeachment trial, is firing the people who testified, under subpoena, and told the truth about his actions.

Others have left.

Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, has left the White House for a job with the government in Florida.

Tim Morrison had already left the White House when he testified. So had Fiona Hill.

John Bolton never did testify, but he’s been gone from the White House for some time. His story will come out before Election Day if his book can be cleared by the White House as not including classified information.

Marie Yovanovitch, the former Ukraine ambassador, recently resigned from the State Department and penned an op-ed in The Washington Post. Bill Taylor, her replacement after Trump reassigned her at the behest of conservative activists and corrupt Ukrainians, has returned to retirement.

“It is the American way to speak up about wrongdoing,” Yovanovitch wrote in the Post, adding, “I had always thought that our institutions would forever protect us against individual transgressors. But it turns out that our institutions need us as much as we need them; they need the American people to protect them or they will be hollowed out over time, unable to serve and protect our country.”

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CNN