GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal'

GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal'
© Greg Nash

Several GOP senators on Monday defended the ousters of two key impeachment inquiry witnesses, arguing that they weren't loyal to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE.

The president's decision to recall Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Top Democrat slams Trump's new EU envoy: Not 'a political donor's part-time job' Trump names new EU envoy, filling post left vacant by impeachment witness Sondland MORE, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and remove Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanVindman describes 'campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation' by Trump, allies in op-ed Vindman marks 1 year since call that led to Trump's impeachment White House officials alleged Vindman created hostile work environment after impeachment testimony: report MORE from his post with the National Security Council has sparked fury among Democrats, who are accusing Trump of political retaliation.

But Republicans largely defended Trump, particularly on Vindman, arguing executive branch positions are within the president's purview.

“Oh, I thought he would have done it way before this," Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters when asked about Vindman.

Pressed if he thought Trump's actions were fair or if Trump was just waiting until the trial was over, Shelby brushed off the questions adding that Vindman "wasn't very loyal."

Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal MORE (R-Mo.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick Republicans set sights on FBI chief as Russia probe investigations ramp up Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Wis.) added that Vindman went outside of the "chain of command" with his concerns over Trump's Ukraine policy.

"I think the president has every right to believe that the people that are advising him give him advice and then follow the policy," Blunt said.

He added that Vindman "shouldn't be taking action on a policy problem outside the chain of the command. I would have dismissed him for that. I would have dismissed him earlier."

Johnson indicated that he thought Vindman went "outside their chain of command," adding that he has "some real issues with that." 

Vindman, a key witness in the months-long impeachment saga, was escorted out of the White House on Friday and told to leave his NSC position. Vindman listened in on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Zelensky at the heart of the House impeachment effort and spoke publicly about his concerns about the conversation. 

Trump, in the call, asked Zelensky to help "look into" former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE and his Hunter Biden.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic Bipartisan senators ask congressional leadership to extend census deadline Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks MORE (D-N.Y.) cited Vindman's ouster in letters he sent to inspectors general across the government on Monday, arguing that they need to be prepared to protect potential whistleblowers from political retaliation.

“These attacks are part of a dangerous, growing pattern of retaliation against those who report wrongdoing only to find themselves targeted by the President and subject to his wrath and vindictiveness,” Schumer wrote.

Trump has defended his decision to return Vindman to the Pentagon, calling him "insubordinate."

Vindman was one of two high-profile impeachment witnesses who were ousted from their positions on Friday, roughly two days after the Senate acquitted Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress.

Trump also recalled Sondland, who told House lawmakers that "everyone was in the loop" about the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president's political rivals.

Johnson confirmed that he reached out to White House to try to prevent Sondland's ouster on Friday, but was unsuccessful.

And other GOP senators indicated they didn't oppose Trump's decision to remove Sondland and Vindman from their positions.

"The president has a right to surround himself with individuals that he chooses and he trusts, so I think it's completely appropriate for him to do that," Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say MORE (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Senate GOP posts M quarter haul as candidates, Trump struggle MORE (R-Ind.) added that Trump "has sole authority to hire and fire."

Blunt, asked specifically about Sondland, noted that he was a "political ambassador" not a career State Department official.

"He gave a million dollars obviously hoping to be an ambassador," Blunt said, "and in my view obviously he wasn't very good at it."