Trump has warned John Kelly to keep his mouth shut. Kelly had sprung to the defense of national security aide Alexander Vindman, who testified against Trump in the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, only to be fired.
US President Donald Trump slammed former White House chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday for being disloyal after he defended an important impeachment witness.
Trump sent an angry tweet after Kelly backed Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a US military expert on Ukraine who was among the White House officials who raised concerns about Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
During the phone call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to open an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and particularly Biden's son's association with a contentious energy company in Ukraine. The call triggered Trump's impeachment trial, which ended in acquittal last week.
"He misses the action and just can't keep his mouth shut," Trump said of Kelly, also claiming that the former Marine officer, who was no longer in the military when in Trump's government, had a "military and legal obligation" to keep quiet.
Kelly served as Trump's chief of staff from July 2017 to January 2019.
Kelly attacks Trump
Speaking at a public forum on Wednesday in the northeastern state of New Jersey, Kelly sprang to the defense of Vindman. Trump had suggested earlier this week that the Pentagon should review Vindman's role in Ukraine and potentially take disciplinary action against him.
Vindman was expelled from his position as a Ukraine specialist on the White House National Security Council last Friday, only two days after the Senate acquitted Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of justice charges. He remains to be reassigned by the Pentagon.
During his speech, Kelly said that Vindman did precisely as he was trained to do upon hearing "an illegal order" or anything "questionable," that is, flag any concerns to superiors, according to a report by US magazine The Atlantic.
"He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,'' said Kelly in his speech at Drew University. "We teach them, 'Don't follow an illegal order. And if you're ever given one, you'll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.'"
Kelly also criticized Trump's policies on immigration, North Korea and a probe into the case of a special forces soldier accused of war crimes.
Read more:Impeachment in the US: How does it work?
Ukraine phone call
Trump has insisted that his call to Zelenskiy where he asked for a "favor" was "perfect."
Vindman testified that he flagged his concerns inside the White House after concluding that Trump was inappropriately conditioning nearly €369 million ($400 million) in military aid to Ukraine in order to receive Zelenskiy's help in probing the Bidens.
In his speech, Kelly said that Vindman's decision to raise his concerns was valid.
"Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the US was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against the Russians,'' Kelly said. "And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that's what that guy [Vindman] was most interested in.''
Vindman's twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, was also ousted from his position as an ethics lawyer at the US National Security Council and re-posted to the Army General Counsel's Office.
mvb/msh (AP, AFP)