Alex Vindman removed from NSC post, escorted out of White House; Update: Sondland out too

We’ll probably see the usual two-step about this news on the Hill. Step one: Republicans in Congress say, “We shouldn’t assume the worst about the president’s motives. Maybe he removed Vindman for reasons other than retaliation.” Step two: Trump turns around this afternoon or tomorrow and flatly admits to reporters that it was retaliation. “The son of a bitch testified against me. He had to go.”

Then there’ll be some sort of halting step three. A sheepish “it’s not what I would have done” from the now-burned Susan Collins crowd, an enthusiastic “the son of a bitch had to go” from the Matt Gaetz chorus.

Why don’t they just skip steps one and two? You’d think they would have learned by now. Go straight to three.

Collins, in fact, was asked this asked this morning about the rumors that Trump would soon oust Vindman and replied, carefully, that she was “not in favor of any kind of retribution.” Weirdly enough, the president wasn’t deterred, telling reporters this morning of Vindman, “I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.” And now:

Click on the images in the tweet for a more readable version of Vindman’s lawyer’s statement. I’m curious to know if he was escorted out as a matter of routine, because that’s S.O.P. when an employee at the White House is dismissed, or if it was added as a special indignity, as if he couldn’t be trusted to comport himself appropriately. I’d guess it’s S.O.P. but Mike McFaul served as an ambassador under Obama and seems surprised by it:

A fair question to ask is when, precisely, would have been an optimal time to reassign Vindman. He’s not guaranteed a job in the White House forever in the name of protecting him from presidential retaliation, and the working relationship between him and his boss had obviously turned toxic and mistrustful. Plus, new National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has been looking to streamline the National Security Council by reducing its size gradually over time. That’d be a legit reason to send Vindman elsewhere eventually instead of keeping him on indefinitely.

It turns out there’s an answer to the question, though, per WaPo. Vindman was on his way out already — imminently, by his own request. He was fired today, it seems, simply so that Trump could give him a kick on his way out the door.

Pressman said Vindman will return to work at the Defense Department until he reports to the Army War College in July.

Vindman, who testified during House Democrats’ impeachment hearings, had already informed senior officials at the NSC that he intended to leave his post early — by the end of the month, according to people familiar with his decision. But Trump was eager to make a symbol of the Army officer soon after the Senate acquitted him of the impeachment charges.

Trump has complained about Vindman in private, mocking the way he spoke, wore his uniform and conducted himself during the impeachment inquiry, according to people familiar with his remarks. He has also discussed with aides removing other national security officials who testified or cooperated with House Democrats, calling them disloyal.

If it wasn’t clear enough from yesterday’s press conference that Trump intends to exact revenge on the “evil” people responsible for his impeachment, this Vanity Fair piece from a few days ago will do the trick. Vindman wasn’t named there as a potential target — Bolton, Romney, and House Democrats are the main preoccupation — but Vindman was an easy first target since he’s a direct subordinate. He was a key witness to the substance of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky on July 25 of last year, complaining about it to superiors and eventually triggering many months of “no quid pro quo” talking points in response.

Which continued until Ted Cruz finally pulled Trump’s lawyers aside two weeks ago and told them to knock it off since literally everyone in the Senate had come to realize that there obviously was a quid pro quo.

Schumer posted a letter on Twitter that he received from the deputy Secretary of Defense in December reassuring him that “the Department will not tolerate any act of retaliation or reprisal” against Vindman, among others. I would have guessed that they don’t consider a new assignment “retaliation,” especially since Vindman had requested to leave by the end of the month. Soldiers are reassigned all the time. If Trump tried to have him court-martialed or to strip him of his rank without reason, that would be something more closely resembling retaliation for Pentagon purposes. But my assumption is wrong, per natsec lawyer Bradley Moss, who claims reassignments qualify as retaliation under laws protecting whistleblowers.

His brother, who also works for the NSC, was also fired today, of course.

Update: I’d forgotten the day of fake outrage a few weeks ago over the “heads on pikes” quote.

Update: A red-letter day for Senate Republicans like Collins and Lamar Alexander who thought Trump would be chastened somehow by the impeachment process.

Emboldened by his victory and determined to strike back, Mr. Trump fired Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, within hours of the White House dismissing Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran who was a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. Both officials testified to a House committee about the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to help him against his domestic political rivals.

“I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union,” Mr. Sondland said in a statement just hours after Colonel Vindman’s dismissal. He expressed gratitude to Mr. Trump “for having given me the opportunity to serve.”

I shouldn’t say they “thought” he’d be chastened. They just pretended to think that in order to justify their vote to acquit. Anyway, I’m glad he’s making fools of them by proving how disingenuous their excuse was.