WASHINGTON — A handful of Republican senators tried to stop President Donald Trump from firing Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who testified in the House impeachment hearings, but the president relieved the diplomat of his post anyway, according to people briefed on the discussions.
The senators were concerned that it would look bad for Trump to dismiss Sondland and argued that it was unnecessary, since the ambassador was already talking with senior officials about leaving after the Senate trial, the people said. The senators told White House officials that Sondland should be allowed to depart on his own terms, which would have reduced any political backlash.
But Trump evidently was not interested in a quiet departure, choosing instead to make a point by forcing Sondland out before the ambassador was ready to go. When State Department officials called Sondland on Friday to tell him that he had to resign that day, he resisted, saying that he did not want to be included in what seemed like a larger purge of impeachment witnesses, according to the people informed about the matter.
Sondland conveyed to the State Department officials that if they wanted him gone that day, they would have to fire him. And so the president did, ordering the ambassador recalled from his post effective immediately. Sondland’s dismissal was announced just hours after another impeachment witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, were marched out of the White House by security officers and told their services were no longer needed.