The decorated soldier and White House aide who played a central role in the Democrats’ impeachment case against President Trump is expected to be pushed out of his job at the National Security Council, two people familiar with the expected personnel move said Friday.
“I’m not happy with him,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House to head to North Carolina. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not. ... They are going to be making that decision.”
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman could leave the White House staff and return to a job at the Pentagon as early as Friday. He could leave as part of a group of staffers exiting the NSC, according to one person familiar with the expected decision. Another person familiar with Vindman’s situation said he was getting ready for retaliation from the White House for his testimony at the House impeachment hearings. Both individuals were not authorized to discuss the case and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Vindman’s status at the NSC, the foreign policy arm of the White House, has been uncertain since he testified that he didn’t think it was “proper” for Trump to “demand that a foreign government investigate” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings with the energy company Burisma in the eastern European nation of Ukraine. Vindman’s ouster seemed even more certain after Trump mocked him Thursday during his post-acquittal celebration with Republican supporters in the East Room.
“Lt. Col. Vindman and his twin brother — right? — we had some people that — really amazing,” Trump said, referring to Vindman and his brother, Yevgeny, who works as a White House lawyer.
Vindman, a 20-year Army veteran, wore his uniform full of medals, including a Purple Heart, when he appeared late last year for what turned out to be a testy televised impeachment hearing. Trump supporters raised questions about the Soviet Jewish immigrant’s allegiance to the United States and noted that he had received offers to work for the government of Ukraine — offers Vindman said he swiftly dismissed.
“I am an American,” he stated emphatically.
When the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), addressed him as “Mr. Vindman,” the Iraq War veteran replied: “Ranking member, it’s Lt. Col. Vindman please.”
Vindman’s return to the Pentagon would dovetail with national security advisor Robert O’Brien’s effort to streamline the NSC. At a public event earlier this week, O’Brien said the NSC “grew and ballooned” to 236 policy professionals during President Obama’s administration.
“When President Kennedy was in office and was dealing with the Cuban missile crisis, he had 12 policy professionals,” O’Brien said, adding that his goal was to bring the staff down to roughly 100.
O’Brien said he would reduce the staff primarily through attrition as staffers detailed from other agencies, such as the Defense Department, complete their stints at the White House. Vindman’s tour was set to end this summer.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked what the Pentagon would do to ensure that Vindman faces no retribution when he is reassigned from the White House. He referred the question to the Army, in terms of Vindman’s next assignment, but on the retribution aspect, he said: “We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that. We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means.”