Amid reports of U.S. Army Lt. Col Alexander Vindman’s firing on Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated the Pentagon would protect service members from retribution.
Esper indicated Pentagon officials had already addressed how to handle retaliatory firings. “We protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that,” Esper said, as reported by The Hill. “We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means.”
Vindman was removed from his White House position on the National Security Council (NSC) on Friday following his November impeachment testimony against President Donald Trump.
It’s not clear what specific protections the Pentagon could extend to Vindman, given the Trump administration’s decision to go forward with removing him from the White House. Vindman is now expected to return to work at the Pentagon.
“We welcome back all of our service members wherever they served, to any assignment they are given,” Esper said, prior to the news of Vindman’s White House removal, as reporters asked how he would be treated if reassigned.
Vindman was one key witness who indicated he felt a July 25, 2019 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “inappropriate.” Vindman’s claims supported allegations that Trump used the call to pressure Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. Vindman’s testimony before members of the House of Representatives furthered Democratic-led efforts to levy articles of impeachment against Trump.
Trump’s decision to remove Vindman comes just days after the majority of the U.S. Senate voted to acquit Trump on the impeachment charges, finding him not guilty.
Prior to Vindman’s removal, Trump indicated his White House was considering removing Vindman.
“Well, I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not,” Trump said.
Pres. Trump doesn’t deny reports his White House plans to force out a National Security Council expert who testified in the House impeachment inquiry.
“You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” Trump says of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. “I’m not.” https://t.co/RDhqtaRmIs pic.twitter.com/et15zGZGvw
— ABC News (@ABC) February 7, 2020
Vindman’s lawyer, David Pressman, characterized his clients firing as an act of “revenge” by President Trump.
Trump, however, said he never met Vindman personally, but suggested Vindman’s direct superior raised legitimate questions about Vindman’s judgement, including issues “adhering to the chain of command and leaking information.”
….was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, “OUT”.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2020
“In other words, ‘OUT,'” Trump tweeted.