WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday the top White House expert on Ukraine might be ousted after testifying against the president in the impeachment process that ended this week with Trump’s acquittal.
Asked about media reports that he might remove Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council (NSC), Trump told reporters: “I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?…They’re going to be making that decision.”
A source familiar with the situation told Reuters that Vindman would be reassigned to the Defense Department.
Vindman testified to the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry in November that Trump made an improper demand of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July phone call that became the centerpiece of the probe of the Republican president.
Vindman told a Democratic-run committee “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing” in the phone call. Trump asked Zelenskiy to launch investigations into both Democratic rival Joe Biden and a widely debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Trump emerged victorious from his trial this week with a vote in the Senate, controlled by fellow Republicans who rejected abuse of power and obstruction of justice charges.
But the president, whose term has been clouded by investigations into Russian interference in the election and then the impeachment inquiry, has said he is still bitter about the ordeal as he turns his attention to seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Bloomberg News first reported Vindman’s planned removal, citing two people familiar with the matter who said the move would be cast as part of a larger downsizing of the NSC.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who tussled with Trump for months over impeachment, said she was shocked by Vindman’s possible departure. “I’m stunned by it,” she told CNN, calling Vindman a patriotic person.
Another senior white House aide who testified over impeachment, Jennifer Williams, left this week for a post at the U.S. military’s Central Command, according to Bloomberg News.
Trump has cast both Vindman and Williams as “Never Trumpers” who oppose him.
Trump denied reports that he was weighing a permanent chief of staff to replace acting aide Mick Mulvaney, who was a central figure in the impeachment inquiry.
“That was a false report. I have a great relationship with Mick,” Trump said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon protects all service members from retribution.
“We welcome back all of our service members wherever they served, to any assignment they are given,” Esper said when asked if Vindman would be welcomed back to the Pentagon.
“As I said, we protect all of our persons, service members from retribution or anything like that,” he told a news conference with his Colombian counterpart at the Pentagon.
In more fallout from Trump’s impeachment, Senate Republicans are launching their own investigation of Hunter Biden, who served on the board of Ukrainian gas company while his father, Joe Biden, served as U.S. vice president.
Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson have asked for the younger Biden’s travel records while under official Secret Service protection, among other official records. Trump had urged Ukraine to investigate both Bidens, though there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either one.
Democrats say Trump pushed for the Ukraine investigations to undermine Joe Biden, a candidate to win the Democratic nomination for November’s election. Trump says he wanted to help Ukraine fight corruption.
Biden’s campaign suffered a serious setback when he came in fourth place at Democrats’ first state nominating contest in Iowa this week.
Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and Idrees Ali; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Howard Goller