President Donald Trump abruptly fired two top US officials who testified against him in his impeachment trial, leading politicians and veteran journalists to compare it to an episode out of the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced then-President Richard Nixon to resign.
Trump on Friday fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, and Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, both of whom testified against Trump's dealings in Ukraine that sparked the impeachment investigation.
Trump also fired Alexander Vindman's twin brother, Yevgeny, who also works for the White House but was not involved in the impeachment trial. His job was terminated suddenly and with no explanation, despite two decades of loyal service to this country," Alexander Vindman's lawyer said.
It was one of Trump's first acts after being acquitted on Wednesday by the Republican-controlled Senate, which largely voted on party lines to keep him in office. (The only Republican who voted to convict Trump was Sen. Mitt Romney, whom Trump and his allies have relentlessly attacked since.)
This has led to a slew of Democratic lawmakers and veteran journalists to refer to Trump's firings as the "Friday night massacre."
It's a riff off "Saturday night massacre," which refers to a night in October 1973 when Nixon removed three top officials investigating his role in the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate complex, and the subsequent cover-up of it.
Then-Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox had wanted to hear tapes from the Oval Office's audio taping system, and the White House has refused to comply with Cox's request.
When Cox obtained a subpoena, Nixon tried to get Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire him; instead, Richardson and Ruckelshaus refused to do so, and resigned instead.
Congress later opened impeachment investigations into Nixon, but the president resigned before he could be impeached.
'I'm sure Trump is fuming that he can't fire Pelosi'
Greg Miller, the national security correspondent for The Washington Post, tweeted: "The Friday night massacre is under way. Sondland. The Vindmans. Anyone who testified (and told the truth, by the way) seems targeted for this purge."
Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, tweeted Friday night: "The Friday night massacre continues. This is full retribution in plain sight because no one has been willing to stop him."
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, also said: "This is the Friday Night massacre. I'm sure Trump is fuming that he can't fire Pelosi. We aren't a dictatorship...yet."
David Rothkopf, a veteran journalist who has published books about US national security, also titled his Friday-night article in The Daily Beast: "Friday Night Massacre's Just the Beginning for Acquitted Trump."
The firings of Sondland and the Vindman brothers "are, by any definition, retaliation against witnesses in the case against the president," Rothkopf wrote.
"That's a crime," he added, but noting that the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Bill Barr would likely not prosecute the crime, considering Barr's evident loyalty to Trump. On Wednesday, Barr announced nobody at the DOJ can open "politically sensitive" investigations into presidential candidates and top officials without his approval, The New York Times reported.
Joe Lockhart, the White House press secretary for the Clinton White House, went further and tweeted: "Remember when using terms like Friday night massacre, the original Saturday night massacre was senior officials at DOJ refusing to fire the Special Prosecutor on principle."
"Remember principle? There isn't anyone in the Trump Administration that has any principles. All gone."