Days after Donald Trump launched public attacks against impeachment witness Alexander Vindman, the top U.S. Army official is being removed from his post on the White House National Security Council in what critics say is an improper act of retaliation.
The lieutenant colonel testified in the House impeachment investigation in October in what was considered the most damaging testimony for Trump. On Sunday, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that Vindman would be removed from his coveted post as Director for European Affairs as part of what O’Brien called a “streamlining” effort.
“My understanding is he’s–that Colonel Vindman is detailed from the Department of Defense,” O’Brien said, via Talking Points Memo. “So everyone who’s detailed at the NSC, people are going to start going back to their own departments and we’ll bring in new folks.”
O’Brien went on to say that the size of the NSC had grown under Barack Obama, and that Trump was now looking to streamline. O’Brien did not explain why Trump waited nearly three years into his term to make the move or why it came immediately after Vindman’s testimony, but the timing appeared to critics to be a clear act of political reprisal against Vindman by Trump.
O’Brien claimed that there was no measure of retaliation against Vindman, but again Trump’s critics were not buying it. Mark Zaid, the lawyer representing the still-unidentified whistleblower, said on Twitter that Vindman should be afforded the rights of a whistleblower, which includes safety from job reprisals.
It should be made clear that #Vindman's #whistleblower disclosures are protected by law & he is not allowed to be subjected to reprisal. It may be a legitimate, justifiable personnel move, but relevant oversight authorities should inquire. https://t.co/4EmlzDh0xV— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) November 10, 2019
Others said the move was not surprising given Trump’s sharp attacks on Vindman in the wake of his testimony. As Talking Points Memo noted, President Trump claimed that Vindman was a “Never Trumper,” a negative term the president has used in personal attacks against his critics, particularly Republicans who criticize him.
Unsurprisingly (but that doesn't make it even 1% right), the White House is firing Col. Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council in retaliation for his truthful testimony to the House #ImpeachmentInquiry.— Grant Stern (@grantstern) November 11, 2019
This is WRONG.#ImpeachmentTaskForce pic.twitter.com/j598rSDFLt
Just a few weeks before, Trump claimed that these so-called “Never Trumpers” were “human scum,” drawing significant pushback from both Democrats and Republicans.
“The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats,” Trump tweeted on October 23. “Watch out for them, they are human scum!”
Trump had also teased that he had damaging information on Vindman that he would be releasing, though he has not yet followed through. Critics said the attacks, along with Trump’s attacks on the whistleblower, are improper attempts to retaliate against impeachment witnesses and could constitute obstruction of justice, which itself would be an impeachable offense.