Even now, Trump can't stop going after Lt. Col. Vindman

The ongoing offensive isn't about Vindman anymore. It's about sending a message to the next White House official who may be tempted to do the right thing.
Image: Alexander Vindman
Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives to testify before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 19, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Vice President Mike Pence was in South Carolina yesterday, delivering a message to cadets at The Citadel, where the Indiana Republican delivered a "promise" to the audience: "You will have a Commander-in-Chief who will always have your back."

Well, maybe not always. Donald Trump has an unfortunate track record of demeaning those who serve in the American military.

In fact, around the same time Pence praised the president's commitment to honoring those who serve, Trump once again took aim at Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a week after the decorated war hero (and his brother) was ousted from the White House National Security Council.

Trump made his latest comments Thursday in a podcast interview with Fox News host Geraldo Rivera, who characterized the vibe in the West Wing being "a nest of vipers and snitches and backstabbers and rats." Trump then railed against Vindman for saying "terrible things" about his now-infamous July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his impeachment inquiry testimony.

The president said Vindman should've gone to his superiors, but instead "he went to Congress or he went to Schiff or he went to somebody." In reality, Trump has this backwards: Vindman carefully followed the chain of command, went to his superior on the NSC, and only spoke to lawmakers in response to a lawful congressional subpoena.

The president added, "Vindman was the guy that, when we took him out of the building, the building applauded.... I don't know if you heard that. The whole building, many of the people in the building started applauding."

By all appearances, Trump made this up.

It was earlier this week when Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told Politico, "Things have a short shelf life around here. I think the president, like all of us, is going to be ready to move on." It was the next day when Trump suggested Vindman should face disciplinary action from the military.

It now appears that won't happen, but the larger point remains the same: the president isn't letting go of his vengeance campaign against a decorated war hero who dared to tell the truth.

Vindman's lawyer issued a written statement yesterday, which read in part, "The continued public attacks by the President of the United States on an active-duty officer in the military are designed to intimidate and to punish. Just as the direction the President provided to the Department of Defense earlier this week is both unmistakable and chilling, by using the power of his office to repeatedly humiliate and punish those following the law, the President is encouraging breaking the law."

I don't think there's any doubt that this is true. It's easy to believe Trump holds a grudge against Vindman for daring to behave honorably, but the ongoing offensive is no longer about the lieutenant colonel anymore. It's about sending a message to the next White House official who may be tempted to do the right thing.