US President Donald Trump leaves the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE
US President Donald Trump leaves the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Picture: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE

Washington — President Donald Trump has defended his decision to fire an army officer who gave damning evidence against him during the impeachment probe.

On Friday Lt Col Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House, 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.

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 to face impeachment by Congress.

Trump attacked Vindman in a tweet on Saturday."Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about 'Lt. Col.' Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was," Trump wrote, 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'."

Vindman's lawyer, David Pressman, said the army officer was "escorted out of the White House where he has dutifully served his country and his president.""The truth has cost LTC Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy," he said. "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."

Also on Friday Trump recalled his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, just hours after Vindman was fired.

Sondland, a political appointee who got his post after donating $1m to Trump's inauguration, said in a brief statement, "I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately."

Sondland had told legislators he followed the president's orders in seeking a "quid pro quo" deal for Ukraine to investigate Biden in exchange for getting Ukraine's leader  a coveted White House visit.

Trump has described the impeachment process as a hoax, denying there was anything wrong in his push for Ukraine to open a politically embarrassing investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter.

On Friday, Trump told reporters that he wants Republicans to retake control of the lower house of Congress in the next election and to "expunge" his impeachment.

AFP