Pentagon & Congress

Trump nixing promotion of Army impeachment witness could politicize military, senators warn

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat is warning President Donald Trump not to politicize the military’s promotion process amid new reports he may punish an Army officer for his involvement in the congressional impeachment investigation last year.

Multiple news agencies this week reported that Pentagon officials are worried that Trump may block the scheduled promotion of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who previously worked on the National Security Council and testified before a House panel last year about concerns regarding the president’s July 2019 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Trump dismissed Vindman and his twin brother, Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, from their NSC posts in February, after the Senate dismissed impeachment charges against the president. He also suggested that Vindman could face additional punishment for testifying.

Vindman is among hundreds of officers selected to be promoted to full colonel this year, a process that typically only involves superficial approval from the White House and Senate.

But reports that Trump may take the unusual step to block Vindman’s career advancement drew concern from Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., an Army veteran, who said that “partisan interference with the military’s merit-based promotion system” could cause serious problems.

“The military defends our nation and is not aligned with a political party,” he said in a statement late Thursday. “There are laws and traditions to prevent individuals from polarizing the U.S. Armed Forces to the detriment and demoralization of all.

“The promotion process is about individuals, but it also sends a signal to our troops about what kind of soldiers get promoted … I do not know the results of that promotion board, nor should I. The Army decides these cases on the merits, and I would hope the White House does as well.”

Reed’s armed services committee colleague Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Iraq War veteran, issued similar warnings on social media Thursday, saying she’ll be pressing Pentagon leaders for assurances that politics won’t interfere with routine promotions work.

White House officials have not publicly commented on the issue.

In February, when asked about the potential of punishment for Vindman, Defense Secertary Mark Esper said that “we protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that. We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means.”

Vindman, a 20-year soldier who was serving on the NSC as a Ukraine expert, testified that he believed the president’s call with Zelensky amounted to improper pressure on a foreign government to launch a politically-motivated investigation into the family of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.

But he also insisted that he voiced those concerns through proper military channels, and did not leak the details of his call or the concerns.

Vindman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump publicly blasted Vindman as a “never Trumper witness” despite no public evidence he had opposed the president before the incident.

Reporter Meghann Myers contributed to this report.

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