(Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on Capitol Hill on Oct. 17, 2019.)
On Sunday, Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien appeared on Face the Nation to weigh in on Syria and other national security matters facing the country. The conversation took a turn when O’Brien confirmed that Purple Heart recipient Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who just recently testified against Trump in the House impeachment inquiry, would be “rotated” out of his position at the White House. O’Brien said Vindman, who currently serves as Director for European Affairs, will be removed as a part of the White House’s “streamlining” efforts because the National Security Council had become “bloated” under Obama and more than doubled in size.
O’Brien told Margaret Brennan, “My understanding is he’s–that Colonel Vindman is detailed from the Department of Defense. So everyone who’s detailed at the N.S.C., people are going to start going back to their own departments and we’ll bring in new folks.” O’Brien also made a point to specify that Vindman was detailed from the Department of Defense as he made it appear that this was a routine shuffling of personnel instead of what it looks like — blatant retaliation by the Trump administration for Vindman speaking out to Congress about the actions of the President.
By Monday morning on Veteran’s Day, spokespeople for the National Security Council were already attempting to walk back O’Brien’s Sunday statement. The N.S.C. told press that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is still with the National Security Council at this point after questions arose regarding O’Brien’s statements to CBS and Vindman’s position. Despite the narrative that these are “natural rotations” by the Department of Defense and that this was not done in response to Vindman’s recent testimony and the public release of the transcript of what he told Congress, things are not adding up.
Col. Vindman is currently serving as the National Security Council’s top expert on Ukraine and he has been in this role for some time. Moreover, Vindman recently confirmed to investigators in the impeachment inquiry the details surrounding the concerted effort by members of the State Department and Trump administration to apply pressure to Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. Vindman also told the impeachment committees that Trump had altered the “transcript memo” that the White House released of the phone call between himself and President Zelensky of Ukraine on July 25.
(National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien at the White House on October 23, 2019.)
The arguments by N.S.A. O’Brien that the department that houses Vindman has grown too large and that these personnel shifts are a natural occurrence and unrelated to Vindman’s recent testimony, simply do not make sense. The N.S.C. had ample opportunity for years to constrict the size of that department if they felt it had become too large, yet they waited until this exact moment. Moreover, if personnel needed to be removed due to a need to decrease the size of the department, the last official anyone would want to remove would be the top expert on Ukraine.
It’s impossible to see this new plan to remove Vindman from his post as anything other than a firing and retaliation for his sworn testimony in which he confirmed that Trump had engaged in inappropriate abuses of power. Considering that Vindman’s statements will likely form the basis for any impeachment charges brought by the House of Representatives, the timing becomes even more suspect. What is most offensive is that this was all done on Veteran’s Day to a soldier who has served his country so dutifully. When the inevitable backlash occurred, the N.S.C. tried to gloss over it to buy more time and ultimately move Vindman anyway.
UPDATE: Defense Secretary Mark Esper told a small group of reporters on Monday that Col. Vindman “shouldn’t have any fear of retaliation” over his Congressional testimony. Esper also confirmed that he had reinforced the “no retaliation” message with regard to Vindman’s status in a conversation with the Secretary of the Army. Esper did decline to speculate about when Vindman would return to military ranks specifically, but confirmed that he personally supported N.S.A. O’Brien’s plans to reduce the size of the National Security Council.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Vindman would not be removed early from his previously scheduled detail to the National Security Council, but did not specify when his natural tenure was due to expire. That official also relayed that after Vindman’s time at the White House concludes, he will return to the military.
Another source said that Vindman’s two-year-long detail to the White House is scheduled to end in July, after which Vindman is expected to attend a program at the U.S. Army War College. CBS News had also confirmed this information before O’Brien’s Sunday statement from a lawyer within the Department of Defense, so this information about the July date could be old. The source ultimately confirmed that at this point, Vindman has returned to his White House assignment and there has been no change in his responsibilities thus far.
Stay tuned, I will update you of any changes.
Important Side Note: To all of you who have served the United States and to those who have sacrificed so much by being the parent, spouse or child of a veteran — Happy Veteran’s Day! Thank you so much for your service and courage and know that you are valued and appreciated by those of us who recognize all that you have done. You are what truly makes our country great and one of the many reasons why America is the greatest country in the world. Thank you.
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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.