Alexander Vindman retires from Army, citing 'bullying' from Trump for impeachment testimony
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient, had seen his promotion to colonel delayed this summer,a hold-up that some viewed as retaliation for his impeachment testimony.
Vindman testified last fall that he was alarmed by Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to open investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had business interests in the country. That conversation triggered Trump's impeachment, and Vindman became a star witness in the House Democrats' probe.
Vindman cited "bullying, intimidation and retaliation" by Trump in explaining his decision to retire, according to a statement from his lawyer David Pressman.
"After more than 21 years of military service, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is retiring today after it has been made clear that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited," Pressman said.
"Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career."
He said Vindman chose to put the interests of his country ahead of his own.
"LTC Vindman’s patriotism has cost him his career. Today our country loses a devoted soldier, but it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure it does not lose the values he represents," the lawyer said.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., moved last week to block over 1,100 military promotions until the Pentagon promised not to interfere in Vindman's promotion to colonel. The Illinois Democrat, an Iraq War veteran who lost both her legs after her helicopter was shot down in 2004, demanded that Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirm "in writing that he did not, or will not block" Vindman's "expected and deserved" promotion to colonel.
In a statement released Wednesday, Duckworth slammed the Pentagon for not acting to "protect a decorated combat Veteran against a vindictive Commander in Chief."
Her office added she would keep the hold on promotions in place "until the Secretary of Defense provides a transparent accounting of this disgraceful situation."
Esper on Monday approved a list of officers for promotion to colonel that included Vindman, according to a Defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
Esper and the Army’s approval of Vindman for promotion to colonel over objection from the White House widens the rift between the military and Trump.
Last month, Army Gen. Mark Milley expressed regret for having appeared with Trump after mostly peaceful protesters had been forcibly removed from his path to a photo opportunity outside the White House.
Esper appeared in the photo as well, and later expressed regret for referring to American streets occupied by those demonstrating after the death of George Floyd as “battle space” that needed to be dominated.
Esper’s remarks, Milley’s appearance and Trump’s confrontational approach were roundly denounced by retired Pentagon officials, including former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment probe as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, thanked Vindman for his service and said he "did his duty and told the truth about presidential misconduct."
"Col. Vindman’s patriotism is incomprehensible to the likes of Donald Trump, but it is at the heart of America’s strength," Schiff said in a tweet Wednesday.
Vindman also won praise Wednesday from Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton.
"For Alex Vindman to retire from the military after it must have been 21, 22 years now, is really a loss for the country," Bolton said on MSNBC. He suggested Congress may examine Vindman's decision to retire.
Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he hopes there is a "bipartisan effort" to look into Vindman's departure from the Army.
“It certainly looks as if his career was a casualty of this President’s partisan vendetta against truth tellers and whistleblowers," said Reed, of Rhode Island.
"I’d like to believe that there is bipartisan concern about political interference with the promotion process," he said. "We need answers directly from Secretary Esper about what role, if any, the Trump Administration played in this process."
Vindman was among several aides who listened to Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky.At the time, Vindman was a Ukraine expert serving on the National Security Council, and during last fall's impeachment probe,he told lawmakers that he viewed Trump's request to Ukraine as "improper."
“It was inappropriate,” Vindman said during his high-profile hearing last fall. “It was improper for the president to request, to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this could be an impartial investigation and that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge.”
After Trump's acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, Vindman was escorted from the White House by security guards. Trump had railed against the officer on Twitter, calling him "insubordinate."
The Army had reassigned Vindman to a base outside Washington as he prepared to attend the War College for officers being groomed for promotion. His decision to resign was first reported by CNN.
Trump said Vindman would be subject to a military investigation after his testimony, saying the officer “did a lot of bad things.”
But Pentagon officials maintained that Vindman would not face retribution for his testimony about the phone call. In February, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Vindman was scheduled to complete his assignment in Washington and head to War College in the fall.
“There is no investigation into him,” McCarthy said.
The Army does not comment on personnel matters, spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said Wednesday.
Vindman confirmed his decision to retire in a Twitter post Wednesday but did not elaborate on his decision.
"Today I officially requested retirement from the US Army, an organization I love. My family and I look forward to the next chapter of our lives," he wrote.
In his Nov. 19 testimony, Vindman said he realized he was taking a risk in coming forward but believed he would be “fine” because of the protections afforded in a democracy. He recalled his father’s decision to flee the Soviet Union in search of a better life.
“I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety,” he told lawmakers. “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 the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."