Pentagon & Congress

Senior military promotions can move ahead after resolution over retaliation against Trump whistleblower

The Illinois senator who had blocked all senior military promotions over concerns that the White House was retaliating against a military whistleblower lifted those holds late Tuesday, saying she was satisfied Pentagon leaders were not abusing the promotion process.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat and former Illinois Army National Guardsman who served in Iraq, made the move nearly two weeks ago amid reports that promotion paperwork of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — a former member of the National Security Council who testified during President Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings — had been denied by the White House.

Duckworth had requested Pentagon officials reveal whether they opposed Vindman’s promotion for political reasons. Vindman has since announced he will retire at the end of the month, but Defense Department officials wrote to Duckworth this week saying military leaders signed off on his promotion and sent that information to the president for approval.

“Donald Trump’s unprecedented efforts to further politicize our military by retaliating against Lt. Col. Vindman — for doing his patriotic duty of telling the truth under oath — are unconscionable,” Duckworth said in a statement.

“I’m glad the Department of Defense was finally able to set the record straight that Vindman had earned and was set to receive a promotion to Colonel. We must always protect the merit-based system that is the foundation of our Armed Forces from political corruption and unlawful retaliation.”

Trump has been publicly critical of Vindman numerous times since he testified before a House committee last fall that he had concerns about the president’s politically-motivated comments during a call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in summer 2019.

That testimony was a key part of evidence supporting the House’s impeachment vote against Trump in December. The Senate eventually acquitted the president of those charges.

Duckworth, who has been rumored as a possible vice presidential candidate for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, had said the partial block of military promotions was necessary to ensure that Pentagon leaders were not engaging in improper activity to help the sitting president settle political grudges.

The block had applied to all military promotions at the O-6 level or above. However, since the Senate has been out of session since July 3, the practical effect of the move has been negligible.

Still, earlier this week an attorney representing an anonymous group of Army O-5s sent a letter to Duckworth demanding she lift the holds, saying that her actions were dragging the military promotion system into a political fight.

The Senate is scheduled to return on July 20, and could take up any lingering promotion issues then.

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