Questions about whether the president would attempt to block Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a former European affairs director at the National Security Council, from a promotion to O-6 arose in recent weeks.
“...Vindman is retiring today after it has been made clear that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited,” attorney David Pressman wrote in a release.
Vindman declined comment through a spokesperson.
The president fired him from the NSC in February, following the conclusion of impeachment proceedings.
Vindman had testified before the House late last fall. He offered an explanation as to why, earlier in 2019, he had reported his concerns about Trump’s conduct on a July 2019 phone call with the Ukrainian president, seeming to present a quid pro quo: an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had been on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, in exchange for promised military aid.
“I want to emphasize to the committee that when I reported my concerns on July 10th relating to Ambassador Sondland and on July 25th relating to the president, I did so out of a sense of duty,” he told the House Intelligence Committee in November. “I privately reported my concerns in official channels to the proper authority in the chain of command. My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country. I never thought that I’d be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public about my actions. When I reported my concerns, my only thought was to act properly and to carry out my duty.”
His testimony was met with public vitriol, both from the president and his supporters, as well as members of conservative media. His patriotism ― as a naturalized citizen of Ukrainian birth ― his service record and even his choice to wear his Army Service Uniform to Capitol Hill, in accordance with uniform regulations, were scrutinized.
Though his complying with a congressional subpoena, despite the White House ordering staff members not to comply with the impeachment inquiry, was legally protected by whistleblower laws, concerns rose immediately that Vindman could be punished professionally.
Though he could not be charged for disobeying an order, and it was the president’s prerogative to fire him from the NSC, the question of whether his career would continue on its exceptional trajectory lingered.
In the Army, a promotion often hangs on a stellar evaluation from a superior, and with his senior rater a civilian on Trump’s NSC, it seemed likely that Vindman would not be reviewed favorably.
Suspiciously, the Army’s colonel selection list has been delayed this year, prompting allegations that the Army was holding off on releasing it, knowing that the president would seek to have Vindman removed.
Last week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., threatened to hold up all military promotions until she received assurance from the White House that it would not interfere with Vindman.
“Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career,” Pressman wrote. “Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers. These are choices that no one in the United States should confront, especially one who has dedicated his life to serving it.”
Following Vindman’s announcement, Duckworth issued statement that she would continue to hold up promotions " until the Secretary of Defense provides a transparent accounting of this disgraceful situation,” she said in a release.
“Lt. Col. Vindman’s decision to retire puts the spotlight on Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s failure to protect a decorated combat Veteran against a vindictive Commander in Chief,” she said. “Secretary Esper’s failure to protect his troops sets a new, dark precedent that any Commander in Chief can interfere with routine merit-based military promotions to carry out personal vendettas and retaliation against military officers who follow duly-authorized subpoenas while upholding their oath of office and core principles of service.”
Rather than continue to wait, according to the release, Vindman chose to file retirement paperwork and leave active duty service after 21 years.
“LTC Vindman’s patriotism has cost him his career,” Pressmanw rote. “Today our country loses a devoted soldier, but it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure it does not lose the values he represents.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.