Donald Trump Jr has appeared to admit that two officials fired by his father lost their jobs because they had testified against him.
Gordon Sondland revealed he had been recalled as US ambassador to the European Union on Friday evening, hours after Lt Col Alexander Vindman had been escorted from the White House, where he was working as an expert on Russia with the National Security Council.
Both had given evidence to House committee hearings which led to Donald Trump being impeached on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress.
Mr Trump was acquitted this week by Republican allies in the Senate, even though some admitted they did not dispute the allegations against him.
Amid speculation that Mr Vindman was likely to be fired, the president had admitted he was unhappy with him but appeared to suggest the decision would be made by someone else, saying: “Well, I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not. They’ll make that decision.”
He did not specify who “they” referred to but his comments came against a background of suggestions that the NSC, which is thought to have about 180 staff, could be reduced in size.
However, later on Friday, the president’s oldest son, giving sarcastic thanks to the Democrat who led the impeachment inquiry against his father, tweeted: “Allow me a moment to thank — and this may be a bit of a surprise — Adam Schiff.
“Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might had had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam! #FullOfSchiff.”
The tweet appeared to confirm that the firings of Mr Vindman and Mr Sondland were revenge for them giving evidence about the president’s actions.
Mr Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, was also fired from his position as a lawyer with the National Security Council, although he had no involvement in the impeachment process.
Both are expected to return to the Department of Defence. No official reason has yet been given for them losing their previous jobs. The National Security Council does not comment on personnel matters.
Alexander Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman, said in a statement: “There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House.
“Lt Col Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honour, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.”
The decorated Iraq veteran had listened in to a 25 July call between Mr Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky in which the US president pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to launch investigations into his Democratic political rivals.
Mr Vindman testified that he was unsettled by the call. In an emotional statement at the end of his testimony he thanked his late father for bringing him and his family to America from the former Soviet Union, saying: “Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.” At another point, he said: “Here, right matters.”
Mr Sondland had been involved in efforts in Ukraine to press officials to investigate Mr Trump’s political opponents. He told the impeachment hearings there had been a “quid pro quo”, involving the withholding of US military aid until Ukraine announced the investigations the presidents wanted.
Some of the other witnesses who gave evidence have already left their jobs, including former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled in May after apparently getting in the way of efforts to pressure officials in Kiev to investigate Mr Trump’s rivals. In the 25 July phone call he appeared to threaten her, saying: “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”
Ms Yovanovitch retired last month. Her replacement, William Taylor, vice-presidential aide Jennifer Williams and NSC offiial Tim Morrison – all of whom also gave evidence – have also left their posts.