A former federal prosecutor said that Donald Trump’s actions to oust impeachment witnesses are “criminal,” and warns that things could get worse.
Just days after the U.S. Senate voted to acquit him on both articles of impeachment, Trump moved to remove two top members of his administration who had answered subpoenas and served as witnesses in his impeachment hearing. Trump first removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his role on the National Security Council, and had both Vindman and his twin brother — who played no role in the impeachment proceedings — escorted from the White House.
Hours later, Trump recalled U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who had also testified in the House impeachment inquiry. Sondland had been an ally of Trump, donating $1 million to his inauguration.
The moves were criticized as retribution against administration members who testified and provided damaging information about Trump, and one legal expert said the actions may have been illegal. Elie Honig, a former state and federal prosecutor who now serves as a legal analyst at CNN, tweeted that Trump’s actions may have broken the law. Honig also warned that Trump may get even more brazen with his retribution now that he has been cleared of the impeachment charges.
“I’m sounding this bell now. It is disgraceful and criminal to demote / fire witnesses – as we are seeing with Vindman, his brother, Sondland,” he wrote. “But this could get even worse – including bogus criminal charges against perceived Trump enemies in FBI and elsewhere. Watch for this.”
Other legal experts have said that Trump’s actions may have been in violation of federal law. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance tweeted that Trump’s actions seemed to be retaliation against a witness, which she pointed out was a federal crime.
“I worked for a DOJ that prosecuted people who retaliated against witnesses,” she added.
Even Trump’s allies in the Senate tried to stop him from carrying out the ousters, a report noted. The New York Times reported that a group of Republican senators had tried to dissuade Trump from firing Sondland — noting that the ambassador had already hatched plans to leave his post — and urged Trump to let him leave on his own terms rather than appearing vindictive. They did not attempt to stop Trump from removing Vindman, noting that his testimony against Trump would make it difficult for him to continue working in the White House, but Trump did not heed their requests to show restraint regarding Sondland.