Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to fire two key witnesses from the House’s impeachment inquiry against criticism from Democrats and some GOP lawmakers.
Graham, one of Trump’s loudest supporters in Congress, told CBS’ “Face The Nation” that the president was “justified” in ousting Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council, where he served as an expert on Ukrainian affairs.
“I think his reassignment was justified,” Graham said. “I don’t think he could be effective at the NSC.”
After being subpoenaed by Congress, Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran, testified that he believed Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden were “improper.” He said he expressed his concerns to senior officials.
Vindman’s testimony drew outrage from Trump, who attacked his credibility and ultimately dismissed him from his NSC position on Friday, just two days after the impeachment trial ended in an acquittal for the president.
Graham said he supports “military people telling the truth when asked,” and then accused intelligence officials of acting on a “political agenda.”
He also claimed members of Congress were forbidden from asking Vindman about his connection to the alleged whistleblower who filed a complaint about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine officials last summer.
But host Margaret Brennan noted that Vindman was, in fact, asked about the whistleblower during his House testimony and that he denied knowing the person’s identity.
What’s more, Brennan continued, Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman was also dismissed from his job at the White House on Friday, where he had served as a lawyer for the NSC. He had no connection to the impeachment case, Brennan added.
Graham did not address Yevgeny Vindman’s ouster. He instead attacked Alexander Vindman’s reputation and attempted to steer the conversation to a discussion about the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“Is this retaliation?” Brennan asked, putting the focus back on Trump’s controversial firings. “Because the president has tweeted basically saying that Vindman was forced out not because of any kind of policy issue, not because of anything else, except for what he said was listening in on his phone calls ―”
Graham, failing to directly respond to the question, said Republicans are “not going to be intimidated against asking questions to the whistleblower.”
“Should Gordon Sondland have been fired as well?” Brennan asked, referring to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who testified before the House impeachment proceedings and was also dismissed by Trump on Friday.
Sondland, a businessman who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, was appointed by the president to the ambassadorship in 2018 despite having zero diplomatic experience. He testified during the impeachment inquiry that Trump engaged in a “quid pro quo” by conditioning U.S. aid to Ukraine on officials from the European country opening the president’s requested investigations.
″He’s a political appointee,” Graham said of Sondland. “He serves at the pleasure of the president.”
“Of course, but it was retaliation?” Brennan pressed.
Graham would not say.
″We’re not going to live in a world where the Department of Justice, the CIA and the FBI can cut corners and go after Trump and nobody gives a damn,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) condemned Vindman’s dismissal on Friday as a “brazen act of retaliation.”
“President Trump is impeached forever,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The shameful firing of Col. Vindman was a clear and brazen act of retaliation that showcases the President’s fear of the truth. ... History will remember Lt. Col. Vindman as an American hero.”
Some Republican senators, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, urged Trump not to fire Sondland, The New York Times reported. The senators reportedly told the White House that it would be best to avoid political backlash by letting Sondland leave on his own terms. He was apparently preparing to make an exit after the impeachment trial wrapped up anyway. When State Department officials told him he had to resign on Friday, Sondland reportedly said no. So Trump fired him.
The Vindman brothers remain in the military and will be reassigned.