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Trump defends removal of impeachment witness

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Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gives a thumb's up after the Senate voted not to allow new witnesses at the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. AFP

Trump defends removal of impeachment witness

US President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire an army officer who gave damning evidence against him during the impeachment probe.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House on Friday, where he worked on the National Security Council as an expert on Ukraine. His lawyer called the move an act of revenge by the president, two days after he was acquitted by the Senate.

“Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about ‘Lt. Col.’ Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was,” Trump tweeted, apparently referring to news outlet MSNBC.

“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’.”

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 on 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, said Trump’s actions were “improper”.

That testimony helped build the case leading to Trump becoming only the third president ever impeached by Congress.

Vindman’s lawyer David Pressman on Saturday called Trump’s tweet “a series of obviously false statements concerning Lieutenant Colonel Vindman”.

“They conflict with the clear personnel record and the entirety of the impeachment record of which the president is well aware,” he said in a statement to US media.

“While the most powerful man in the world continues his campaign of intimidation, while too many entrusted with political office continue to remain silent, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman continues his service to our country as a decorated, active duty member of our military.”

On Friday, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU and who also testified against Trump, said he was being recalled immediately.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, on Saturday slammed Trump’s “personal insecurities and vindictiveness”.

“By firing Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Ambassador Sondland like this, the Trump Administration signalled it won’t tolerate people who tell the truth,” he said in a statement.

“This is a dangerous moment for our democracy and the non-partisan institutions charged with defending it and upholding the law.”

Trump has sparked anxiety – he flaunts his power and has an attorney general who favours a strong presidency and a Republican Party unwilling to restrain him.

One of his impeachment lawyers claimed Trump is free to do whatever he wants – even cheat in elections – if he believes it is in the national interest.

Trump himself says, citing the US Constitution: “I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Following the close of Trump’s trial, historian Jon Meacham said: “It is now arguable . . . that Donald Trump may well have become the most powerful president in American history.

“President Trump is functionally a monarch at this point. If the king does it, it’s okay.”

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