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 TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes MORE.

The president's decision to recall Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandHouse wants documents on McEntee's security clearances Trump says he wants officials who are 'loyal to our country' Former US ambassador Yovanovitch lands a book deal: report MORE, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and remove Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanHouse wants documents on McEntee's security clearances Trump says he wants officials who are 'loyal to our country' Trump allies assembled lists of officials considered disloyal to president: 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 ShelbyOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds McCarthy: White House coronavirus funding request 'a little low' Schumer requesting .5 billion in emergency funding on coronavirus 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 BluntCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium MORE (R-Mo.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCongress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Whistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment 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 BidenBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket MORE and his Hunter Biden.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Democratic mega-donor reaching out to Pelosi, Schumer in bid to stop Sanders: report Trump administration freezes funding for study of hurricane barriers: report 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 BarrassoWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Senators to meet with Zelensky after impeachment trial GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' MORE (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungLobbying World Republican Senate campaign arm hauled in over million in January The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in 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."