The Pentagon’s second-highest official on Wednesday reiterated support for an Army officer at the center of the ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, saying that he expects all service members “to be responsive and truthful in their dealings with Congress.”
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the unrelated matter of a recent Defense Department audit, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist also said that anyone reporting concerns of wrongdoing within the department should feel confident they will be treated fairly and protected from reprisal.
“When people come forward we expect them to be honest and truthful, and we expect them to be taken care of in doing so,” he said. “If there is an issue of reprisal (we) make sure that those are held accountable for. And we also look for their security.”
The comments came after questions from committee members about the safety of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the reasons why military aid was withheld from Ukraine earlier this year.
Democrats have said the move was orchestrated by Trump to pressure the foriegn government into investigating his political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The White House has denied those charges.
Vindman, who works on the National Security Council, testified that he was shaken by the president’s actions to mix politics into the international aid issue. His testimony brought praise from Democrats on the panel and questions about his loyalty to America from Republicans. The White House also attacked Vindman for his testimony, issuing a tweet that criticized his professionalism.
Ahead of the hearing, several news outlets reported that Defense Department officials were providing for Vindman and his family as a result of his participation in the impeachment proceedings. In a statement, Army officials said they were providing “supportive assistance” to the soldier, but would not release further details.
Last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Defense One that Vindman or any other whistleblower “shouldn’t have any fear of retaliation.” He also said his department would follow the law on protecting whistleblowers and investigating their complaints.
Amid questioning from senators, Norquist echoed those comments and said that Vindman is being provided assistance.
“I'm not going to go into the measures we take,” he told committee members. “But if we think there's a security issue, we either deal with it or we deal with local authorities.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said all service members need to hear that message.
“I would urge you, at this particular time, to be very diligent in protecting members of our military if they are cooperating with Congress,” he told Norquist. “I think that your words delivered here should hopefully give some assurance and some confidence to some who are very, very worried.”
The House Intelligence Committee has additional witnesses scheduled to testify in the impeachment inquiry on Thursday.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.