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Impeachment witnesses face uncertain future after Trump acquittal and firings

Posted February 7, 2020 4:44 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2020 7:55 p.m. EST

Impeachment witnesses face uncertain future after Trump acquittal and firings

— Two days after his Senate impeachment acquittal, President Donald Trump has emerged emboldened and vindictive, making it clear he harbors resentment toward some of the witnesses who testified in nationally televised hearings during the House inquiry.

Some of the diplomats and officials who provided testimony about the administration's dealings with Ukraine are bracing for more fallout after Lt. Col. Alex Vindman was pushed out of his role at the White House on Friday, months earlier than expected, and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was recalled from his post. Both had been key witnesses in the inquiry.

Others have already left the administration or distanced themselves from the White House by moving into roles at different agencies.

An adviser to Trump said the firings were intended to signal that siding against the President will not be tolerated.

"Flushing out the pipes," the adviser told CNN. "It was necessary."

This is what we know about how those impeachment witnesses have moved forward since testifying.

Alex Vindman

Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, was pushed out of his role months earlier than expected, according to a statement obtained by CNN. Vindman was not slated to leave until July, but he had been telling colleagues in recent weeks that he would likely leave soon. It was not his decision to go, however, according to one person familiar with the situation.

Trump has continued to fume privately about Vindman's testimony, and some Democrats say the move is clearly retribution for it.

Vindman is expected to return to the Pentagon, though it's unclear what his assignment will be until he's expected to attend war college this summer.

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Hyten, told CNN that "it will be up to the Army" to determine where Vindman goes next. "But I'm sure there's still room for his talents in the United States Army, it's just not in the current job," he said.

When asked Friday if he would like to see Vindman out of the White House, Trump replied: "Well, I'm not happy with him. You think I'm supposed to be happy with him? I'm not."

Gordon Sondland

Sondland was recalled after his name had been evoked at multiple junctures during the impeachment trial. His once-close ties to the White House and Trump frayed after he testified publicly during the House inquiry, and administration officials sought to question his credibility during the trial. While Sondland once oversaw Ukraine issues -- despite the country not being in the EU -- he no longer had purview in that area after the hearing, officials have said.

A source close to Sondland told CNN that "there's no other job for him."

Marie Yovanovich

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch -- a highly respected career diplomat who unwittingly became one of the central figures in the impeachment drama -- retired from the State Department last month.

She was removed from her post in Kiev in May 2019 after a targeted campaign against her led by allies of Trump.

Yovanovitch testified both publicly and privately in the House impeachment inquiry. She was repeatedly maligned by the President -- including on a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. She said she was "devastated" to find out that Trump had discussed her in such a negative way during his call with Zelensky in July. She said Trump's comments about her "sounded like a threat." Recent evidence suggested she may have been surveilled while serving in Ukraine.

Bill Taylor

Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine and a key witness in the hearings, departed his temporary post on January 2.

The former ambassador had been brought out of retirement last year to take on duties in the embassy after Yovanovitch was abruptly recalled to Washington at the President's direction.

As a pivotal witness, Taylor provided a damning account of Trump telling his appointees to establish a quid pro quo with Ukraine, offering much-needed US military aid and an Oval Office meeting in exchange for personal political favors.

Taylor spoke exclusively with CNN's Jake Tapper on Friday in his first interview since leaving Kiev last month.

Jennifer Williams

Williams, the special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence on Europe and Russia, left her post last month -- two months ahead of her planned departure at the end of March.

Williams, who served as a detailee to Pence's staff from the State Department, has started another assignment as a deputy foreign policy adviser at US Central Command, which oversees US troops in the Middle East and Central Asia.

She's had the assignment lined up since last fall, a White House official said last month, and she left the vice president's office early to do some training before heading to Tampa, Florida, where CENTCOM is based.

The official did not dispute that Williams' role in the Ukraine saga had influenced her early departure.

Fiona Hill

Hill served as the top official on Russian affairs at the National Security Council before departing the Trump administration last summer ahead of her testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

Last month, Hill returned to the Brookings Institution, where she is a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank's Center on the United States and Europe.

Hill's testimony corroborated several accounts offered by others about the events surrounding Trump's July 25 call with the Ukrainian President, which occurred after she left her role at the National Security Council. Hill mounted a forceful defense of Vindman, saying she had grown concerned about his role on Ukraine only because things were shifting into a political realm.

She delivered a full-throated rebuttal to the "fictional narrative" pushed by Trump and his GOP allies, including during the impeachment inquiry hearings, that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 US election. And she warned the House Intelligence Committee that the Kremlin is prepared to strike again in 2020 and remains a serious threat to American democracy that the United States must seek to combat.

During her closed deposition, HIll said her former boss, then-national security adviser John Bolton, referenced a "drug deal" when told of a linkage between US aid and investigations into Trump's political rivals.

Tim Morrison

Morrison replaced Fiona Hill as the top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council last summer only to leave the job months later, shortly after testifying in the House impeachment inquiry.

After departing the White House, Morrison joined a Washington-based think tank, the Hudson Institute, as a senior fellow.

In his closed-door deposition, Morrison testified that he had heard from Gordon Sondland that US aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the country announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

During his open hearing, Morrison was asked about the July 25 Trump-Ukraine phone call and said that nothing about the conversation worried him.

George Kent

Kent, who has been in the foreign service since 1992, remains in his post overseeing policy for a number of eastern European nations, including Ukraine. He testified about the effort to oust Yovanovitch and his attempts to shield her from false allegations. Kent had been told to "keep my head down" after Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani attacked him by name.

Kurt Volker

As the Ukraine scandal emerged last September, Volker stepped down from his post as the US special envoy for Ukraine. Later, he resigned as executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, saying the impeachment inquiry would be a distraction.

Laura Cooper

Cooper remains in her post at the Pentagon as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. She testified that some Ukrainian officials seemed aware of a hold on US aid weeks before it was publicly reported.

David Hale

Hale, who testified that his agency's leaders declined to defend Yovanovitch in a statement, remains at the State Department as under secretary of state for political affairs, a position he's held since 2018. It's the third-highest position at the State Department. He's currently traveling on official business in Africa.

David Holmes

Holmes is a career foreign service officer who testified about a phone call he had overheard between Sondland and Trump at a restaurant in Kiev. He remains posted at the US Embassy in the Ukrainian capital, and attended a meet-and-greet that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held there during a visit last month.

This story has been updated to include the firing of Gordon Sondland.

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