WASHINGTON – Exacting swift punishment against those who crossed him, an emboldened President Donald Trump on Friday ousted two government officials who had delivered damaging testimony against him during his impeachment hearings. The president took retribution just two days after his acquittal by the Senate.
First came news that Trump had ousted Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated soldier and national security aide who played a central role in the Democrats’ impeachment case. Vindman’s lawyer said his client was escorted out of the White House complex Friday, told to leave in retaliation for “telling the truth.”
“The truth has cost Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy,” attorney David Pressman said in a statement. Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, also was asked to leave his job as a White House lawyer on Friday, the Army said in a statement. Both men were reassigned to the Army.
Next came word that Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, also was out.
“I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union,” Sondland said in a statement.
The White House had not been coy about whether Trump would retaliate against those he viewed as foes in the impeachment drama. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Thursday that Trump was glad it was over and “maybe people should pay for that.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Vindman’s ouster was “a clear and brazen act of retaliation that showcases the President’s fear of the truth. The President’s vindictiveness is precisely what led Republican Senators to be accomplices to his cover-up.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called it “the Friday Night Massacre,” likening the situation to President Richard Nixon’s so-called Saturday night massacre, when top Justice Department officials resigned after refusing to do his bidding by firing a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. (The prosecutor himself was fired anyway.)
Speier added in her tweet, “I’m sure Trump is fuming that he can’t fire Pelosi.”
Senate Republicans, who just two days prior acquitted Trump of charges he abused his office, were silent Friday evening. Many of them had reacted with indignation during the Senate trial when Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor, suggested Trump would be out for revenge against the lawmakers who crossed him during impeachment.
Since his acquittal, Trump has held nothing back in lashing out at his critics, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican to vote against him. On Friday, he also took after Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia whom Trump had hoped would vote with the Republicans for his acquittal but who ended up voting to convict.
Trump tweeted that he was “very surprised & disappointed” with Manchin’s votes, claiming no president had done more for his state. He added that Manchin was “just a puppet” for the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
It was Alexander Vindman who first told the House that in America “right matters” – a phrase repeated in the impeachment trial by lead prosecutor Schiff.
Sondland, too, was a crucial witness in the House impeachment inquiry, telling investigators￼ that “Everyone was in the loop” on Trump’s desire to press Ukraine for politically charged investigations￼. He told lawmakers how he came to understand that there was a “quid pro quo” ￼connecting a desired White House visit for Ukraine’s leader and an announcement that the country would￼ conduct the investigations the president wanted.
Sondland “chose to be terminated rather than resign,” according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Alexander Vindman’s lawyer issued a one-page statement that accused Trump of taking revenge on his client.
“He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, and he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril,” Pressman said. “And for that, the most powerful man in the world – buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit – has decided to exact revenge.”
The White House did not respond to Pressman’s accusation. “We do not comment on personnel matters,” said John Ullyot, spokesman for the National Security Council, the foreign policy arm of the White House where Vindman was an expert on Ukraine.
The Democrats angling to replace Trump took notice of Vindman’s ouster during their evening debate in Manchester, New Hampshire. Former Vice President Joe Biden asked the audience to stand and applaud the lieutenant colonel.
Vindman’s status had been uncertain since he testified that he didn’t think it was “proper” for Trump to “demand that a foreign government investigate” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings with the energy company Burisma in Ukraine. Vindman’s ouster, however, seemed imminent after Trump mocked him Thursday during his post-acquittal celebration with Republican supporters in the East Room and said Friday that he was not happy with him.
“You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “I’m not. ... They are going to be making that decision.”
Vindman, a 20-year Army veteran, wore his uniform full of medals, including a purple heart, when he appeared late last year for what turned out to be a testy televised impeachment hearing. Trump supporters raised questions about the immigrant’s allegiance to the United States – his parents fled the Soviet Union when he was a child —and noted that he had received offers to work for the government of Ukraine, offers Vindman said he swiftly dismissed.
In gripping testimony, Vindman told the House of his family’s story, his father bringing them to the U.S. some 40 years ago.
“Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” he testified. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”’
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, recalled Vindman’s testimony that he would be fine and tweeted, “It’s appalling that this administration may prove him wrong.”
Some of Trump’s backers cheered Vindman’s removal.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., tweeted that Vindman “should not be inside the National Security Council any longer. It’s not about retaliation. It’s because he cannot be trusted, he disagrees with the President’s policies, & his term there is coming to an end regardless.”
News that both Vindman twins had been ousted led Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., to tweet, “The White House is running a two for one special today on deep state leakers.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked what the Pentagon would do to ensure that Vindman faces no retribution. “We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that,” Esper said. “We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means.”
Alexander Vindman is scheduled to enter a military college in Washington, D.C., this summer, and his brother is to be assigned to the Army General Counsel’s Office, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
AP writers Lisa Mascaro, Matthew Lee, Zeke Miller, Eric Tucker and Bob Burns contributed to this report.
To aid students in their career planning, the Career Studio initiative that started in September at Western Kentucky University has gained traction.
Modeled after a program at the University of Nevada, Reno, the Career Studio allows students and alumni to talk with staff members or work on applications for jobs and internships, according to Becky Tinker, associate director of the Advising and Career Development Center at WKU.
“Students can talk with a staff member about career issues or get feedback and assistance with resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles,” Tinker said. “The Career Studio is staffed by trained peer career coaches and professional staff members. The goal is to help students with career issues from the first year through their first job.”
Tinker said that as the fall semester progressed, more students started using the Career Studio.
“Many students came in for help with the graduate school application process,” she said. “Students are coming in looking for jobs and internships.”
Tinker said job, internship and graduate school searches are “often an isolating task.” However, The Career Studio “gives students a place to work on such tasks in a room where others are working on similar tasks. It also gives students immediate access to a staff member who can answer questions as they occur.”
Other services and training offered by the studio involve salary negotiation, job search and networking strategy, career fair prep, personal statements, interviewing and academic major and career exploration.
The Career Studio offers a more streamlined experience than WKU’s previous effort, Tinker said.
“WKU has offered a career drop-in service to students since spring 2011,” Tinker said. “This service used trained peer career coaches to help students with basic career assistance including job and internship searches and resume and cover letter critiques. The service was used by many students, but it was one student at a time and the appointments were 10 minutes long.”
Kaeyane Martinez, a junior biology major at WKU, has been working in the studio since it opened.
“I look at student resumes, cover letters and resumes and cover letters and resumes of some alumni as well,” she said. “I handle internship applications, just filing and making sure they go in the right place and explaining to students what they are supposed to fill out on their end and what their internship coordinator is supposed to fill out, and I also help with finding jobs and internships.”
Kyah Stewart, a junior marketing major at WKU, also works with the studio. Stewart talked about Handshake, an app used by the studio that is similar to job-hunting services such as Indeed or LinkedIn.
“It is a great tool to find jobs,” Stewart said. “It is a recruiting portal that companies will have their job postings on. It is tailored to students and you’re less likely to have scams and things like that.”
Stewart said it is important for students to utilize the service even when they are a freshman, but especially in their final years of college.
“Recruiters on Handshake are looking for graduates and students who are maybe in their senior year about to graduate,” she said.
Three people accused of arranging the sale of a baby have been indicted.
A Warren County grand jury this week charged Maria Domingo Perez, 31, Catarina Jose Felipe, 38, and Pascual Jose Manuel, 45, with selling or purchasing a child for the purpose of adoption.
The Bowling Green Police Department investigated the allegations in December after receiving a tip from a Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School employee that a woman may have given away a baby.
Through interviews, police determined Perez attempted to sell her child, who was born in October, to Felipe and Manuel on Nov. 29 for $2,000, according to BGPD.
During the investigation, city police made contact with Perez on Dec. 2 at her apartment on West 10th Avenue.
BGPD Detective Rebecca Robbins testified at a December court hearing that Perez had come to the apartment with her infant that day and told police that Felipe and Manuel had been babysitting the child for the previous three days.
Upon further questioning, Perez told police she gave away the child.
“(Perez) stated she was struggling to provide for her children since her husband had been deported four months prior,” Robbins said in December.
City police traveled to North Lee Drive to meet with Felipe and Manuel at their residence.
Manuel told police that he and Felipe paid $2,000 to Perez and intended to adopt the child, Robbins testified at the December hearing.
The infant and Perez’s other five children were taken into protective custody by social services.
Police learned that three adults and a number of children lived with Perez at her apartment and the adults helped Perez with her bills and with caring for her children, Robbins testified.
The charge of selling/purchasing a child for adoption is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Kentucky laws covering adoption forbid the purchase or sale of any child for adoption, termination of parental rights or any other purpose. The statute makes exceptions for in vitro fertilization and does not prohibit child-placing agencies from charging a fee for adoption services.
Perez remains in Warren County Regional Jail under a $5,000 cash bond and is due to appear Feb. 10 for arraignment in Warren Circuit Court. Felipe and Manuel are free on bond and are set to be arraigned March 17.
Local school board members breathed a collective sigh of relief this week when Kentucky’s Board of Education voted to grant waivers to school boards seeking to hold off on charter school authorizer training, which many have criticized as too restrictive.
“I was just very excited” upon hearing the news, said Jane Wilson, who chairs the Bowling Green Independent School District’s board of education. “I just think it opens up a lot of doors for board members.”
Warren County Public Schools Board Chairman Kerry Young agreed, adding the change will offer local school board members more freedom to exercise their judgment and select training experiences that actually relate to their school district’s needs.
“I think the Kentucky Board of Education stepped up to the plate and made the right call,” he said, calling the opening of a charter school in either local school district unlikely.
“To me, there’s not a need for a charter school in Warren County,” he said. “Both districts are educating everyone that comes to their door.”
Charter schools have been legal in Kentucky since 2017, but not one has successfully opened because lawmakers haven’t enacted a method for funding them. Plans to open them must be approved by local school boards, a collective of local boards or the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, which act as their authorizers.
Recently, however, school boards across the state have balked at the annual 12-hour training requirement they must complete.
Local school board members who spoke to the Daily News said the requirement can be a tall order to complete on top of the regular training they’re responsible for, especially for inexperienced board members. Newer board members must complete 12 hours of continuing education training, often covering areas such as school finance, superintendent evaluation and ethics.
Under the 12-hour requirement, Wilson said she was often pulled away from training opportunities in topic areas that would have offered her insights into the big education issues such as school safety, equity for special-needs students and the impact of technology on the classroom.
“I never could take those because I was forced to take what was mandated,” she said.
“Each hour of training costs the local board taxpayer money,” BGISD board member Deborah Williams added in an email to the Daily News.
Young also agreed that the change would free up his fellow board members to take training courses more relevant to their daily experiences.
“To me, it’s a common-sense thing,” he said.
In December, eight school districts went before the state school board to request relief from the training requirement, but were ultimately denied.
Now, with a new state board of education seated after Gov. Andy Beshear took office, those eight school boards have been permitted waivers, along with an additional eight that came before the new board this month. Simpson County Schools is among that group, according to a KDE news release.
Other boards will be offered waivers if their superintendent requests one in writing to Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown, the release said. The waiver expires June 30, 2021.
Should a school board receive a charter school application, its members would have 10 days upon receiving the application to complete their training.
Also Tuesday, the Kentucky Board of Education reviewed an amendment to the state regulation that covers charter school authorizers and contains the 12-hour requirement. The change clarifies that board members only have to undergo training if they receive a charter school application.
Young said WCPS has already submitted a request for a waiver, while Wilson said she anticipates it to be a topic of discussion at an upcoming board meeting.
FRANKFORT – Law enforcement officers would be required to carry weapons when assigned to provide security at schools, under legislation that won final approval from Kentucky lawmakers on Friday.
The measure passed the House, 78-8, after a lengthy debate, sending the bill to Gov. Andy Beshear. It previously passed the Senate.
It’s a follow-up to last year’s sweeping school safety law, which did not specify whether school police officers needed to carry a weapon.
The new bill also aims to bolster school counseling, a widely supported proposal. But requiring the school-based officers to carry guns sparked disagreements.
Supporters said arming the officers, known as school resource officers, would strengthen school safety. Republican Rep. Matthew Koch said that “evil exists in this world” and the armed officers would stand as the “last line of defense” against it at schools.
“You can never, ever as a leader ask someone to run into harm’s way to save you without being properly armed,” he said.
Opponents countered that the decision on arming school-based officers should be left up to local districts.
“I’m concerned about armed officers in our schools,” said Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner of Louisville. “I hear from students in my district who say that the presence of even a police car in their parking lot when they come into school makes them feel like they’re not going to school, but that they’re going to some sort of dangerous institution.”
The issue has also sparked debate in the state’s largest school district. In Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, the local school board has been divided over whether to arm officers while crafting plans for a district-managed police force.
Speaking for the bill, Republican Rep. John Blanton said school resource officers can build relationships with students who view law enforcement unfavorably.
“These SROs can help build that bond, take away that fear to realize that they’re human beings and they’re there to protect them, not cause them harm,” he said.
Noting that armed officers are assigned to the state Capitol, Republican Rep. C. Ed Massey said: “Why should our children have any less protection?”
Before sending the bill to the governor, the Republican-dominated House voted down a pair of amendments, including one that would have required school officers to wear body cameras.
Republican Sen. Max Wise, the bill’s lead sponsor, hailed the bill’s final passage, calling it “a continuation of the General Assembly’s efforts to increase safety within our school walls.”
Beshear’s office said in a statement that the governor “believes every child should be safe at school” and said he will review the measure once it reaches his desk.
The school safety efforts are in response to the 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky, where two 15-year-old students, Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, were killed and more than a dozen others were injured when another student opened fire.
Last year’s law was intended to boost police protection and counseling and increase physical security of school campuses, but came with no money. Lawmakers put off funding decisions until considering a new state budget this year. Beshear’s recent budget proposal includes $18.2 million in bond funding to finance safety upgrades at schools.
The safety law also set the goal of having at least one counselor for every 250 students. The new legislation would widen the scope to include social workers as well as school-based psychologists. Even so, reaching that goal would require much more state funding. One estimate put the price tag for implementing last year’s law at $121 million.