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 TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE.

The president's decision to recall Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Biden to mark Tuesday anniversary of George Floyd's death Trump impeachment witness suing Pompeo, State over legal fees America's practice of 'pay-to-play' ambassadors is no joke MORE, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and remove Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell Progressive veterans group endorses McAuliffe in Virginia governor's race Should reporters Woodward, Costa have sat on Milley-Trump bombshell for months? 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 ShelbyCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Pelosi hammers 'anti-science, anti-vaccination' Republicans for threatening shutdown The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden to announce increased measures for omicron 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 BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud GOP fears boomerang as threat of government shutdown grows Overnight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate MORE (R-Mo.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' It's time to bury ZombieCare once and for all Marjorie Taylor Greene introduces bill to award Congressional Gold Medal to Rittenhouse 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 BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE and his Hunter Biden.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProgressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan Collins says she supports legislation putting Roe v. Wade protections into law Biden should seek some ideological diversity 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 BarrassoCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to omicron variant Barrasso calls Biden's agenda 'Alice in Wonderland' logic: 'He's the Mad Hatter' MORE (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters.

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senators to take up defense bill Wednesday Schumer: Time is 'now' to repeal Iraq War resolution It's time to give Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity and choice of recovery in the home 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."