WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday he is considering ending the practice of allowing aides and administration officials to listen in on calls with foreign leaders, after a whistleblower complaint over his phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky triggered his impeachment.
“That’s what they’ve done over the years when you call a foreign leader, people listen,” he told Geraldo Rivera in a radio interview that aired Thursday. “I may end the practice entirely.”
The White House has long allowed aides, National Security Council personnel, top State Department officials and members of the intelligence community to sit in on the president’s calls with world leaders to take notes and prepare a summary that serves as an official record of the call.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the administration officials who sat in on Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, in which Trump solicited his Ukrainian counterpart to publicly announce investigations that would politically benefit him. The call prompted an anonymous whistleblower to file a complaint about the call, which launched a House impeachment inquiry.
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His comments came in response to a question about last week’s White House dismissal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council who provided pivotal testimony in the House impeachment inquiry last fall. Vindman was among several aides who listened to Trump’s call with Zelensky. At the time, Vindman reported concerns to superiors that Trump requested investigations of Biden and his son Hunter, who had business interests in the country.
Trump said he viewed Vindman’s actions as “insubordinate” and said that after he was escorted from the White House Friday, “many people in the building started applauding.”
In the week since his acquittal on impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Trump has looked to settle the score with those who testified against him during the trial.
Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, who worked as a lawyer an ethics official at the NSC, were fired on the same day. Trump also dismissed Gordan Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who became a high-profile witness during the impeachment inquiry.