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Sen. Johnson confirms he sought to prevent Sondland dismissal

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) confirmed on Monday that he tried to prevent the White House from ousting Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, saying he wanted the now-former diplomat to be able “leave with dignity.”

Johnson, speaking with reporters in the Capitol, confirmed that he had conversations with White House officials aimed at preventing President Trump from removing Sondland on Friday because he was already expected to leave his post.

Johnson characterized the outreach as “a couple phone calls.” He declined to say who he spoke with but noted that he did not speak directly to Trump.

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“I think Gordon was trying to do the right thing. … His heart was in the right place, and, by the way, I have no problem with people in the administration trying to figure out how they can change the president’s opinion,” Johnson said.

“He was going to leave anyway. It would have been nice if he could have just left on his terms,” Johnson continued.

The New York Times reported that a group of Republican senators, including Johnson, warned that ousting Sondland would look bad because he was already on his way out.

According to the Times, GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.) also reached out to the White House.

Johnson added on Monday that he had hoped Sondland would be able to “leave with dignity.”

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“I had heard that there was something happening, and, again, I was just calling to hopefully prevent that from happening,” Johnson said.

Sondland said on Friday that he had been “advised … the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union.”

Sondland was the second impeachment witness dismissed Friday.

Sondland’s statement came just hours after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was removed from his post with the National Security Council and escorted from the White House grounds.

Sondland provided damaging testimony against Trump in the House impeachment inquiry, saying during a public hearing that “everyone was in the loop” about the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president’s political rivals.

“Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland said in his opening statement at a November hearing. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

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