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Trump firing of impeachment witnesses causes concern among some Republicans

Some Republican senators worried the timing — two days after Trump was acquitted on articles of impeachment — made the firings look like retribution.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., arrives on Capitol Hill, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020 in Washington.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump has fired two impeachment witnesses and Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday that the Department of Justice is accepting information from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani about the Biden family’s alleged dealings in Ukraine — just days after the president was acquitted by the Senate on impeachment charges that included abuse of power for seeking an investigation into the Bidens.

Payback or insubordination?

Trump fired Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a national security counsel adviser, on Friday. Both had testified — after being subpoenaed by Congress — during House impeachment hearings.

The president has the right to fire administration officials at will, but because both were let go two days after a Republican-led senate acquitted the president, the removals have raised concerns that retribution was a factor:

That perception was perhaps exacerbated by the fact the president also removed Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who worked as a national security council lawyer. The career military officers both remain in the Army.

Trump called Alexander Vindman — an Army infantry officer, combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient — “very insubordinate” in a tweet Friday morning.

Republicans worry about optics, retribution

At least four Republican senators tried to prevent the firing of now former ambassador Sondland, according to The New York Times. Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Maine’s Susan Collins worried the White House’s ousting of Sondland would look bad.

“I obviously am not in favor of any kind of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence,” Collins said, the Portland Press Herald reported.

DOJ accepts info from Ukraine. Barr is skeptical.

Sen. Lindsey Graham told CBS’ Face The Nation Sunday that the Department of Justice is accepting information that Giuliani gathered through his efforts — a focus of the House impeachment inquiry — to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Biden family’s activities and allegations of corruption in that country.

“The Department of Justice is receiving information coming out of the Ukraine from Rudy,” Graham told CBS’ Margaret Brennan. He also said that he had he spoken with Attorney General William Barr earlier Sunday morning, and warned that any information coming out of Ukraine needs to be vetted because “Russia is playing us like a fiddle.”

Barr remains cautious. “There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine. There are a lot of cross currents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value,” Barr said Monday, skeptical of any information from Giuliani and Ukraine, Politico reported.