Faced with 'bullying,' Lt. Col. Vindman retires from military

The claim that Vindman was subjected to "bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" by Trump is extremely easy to believe.
Image: Alexander Vindman
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Nov. 19, 2019.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

One of the most dramatic and memorable moments of the congressional impeachment hearings came in November, when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman addressed his father, who was born in the former Soviet Union.

“Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family," he said. "Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”

By all appearances, Donald Trump didn't exactly agree. It's why Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient and Iraq war veteran who was due for an Army promotion, retired from military service today.

Former White House aide Alexander Vindman, a key figure in the impeachment of President Donald Trump, said on Wednesday he was retiring from the Army after suffering what his attorney described as campaign of "bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" by Trump.... Vindman confirmed to Reuters his decision to retire instead of becoming a colonel and wrote on Twitter that he and his family "look forward to the next chapter of our lives."

A statement from his attorney added, "After more than 21 years of military service, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is retiring today after it has been made clear that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited."

The announcement comes less than a month after the Washington Post reported that Vindman's military career prospects were "in jeopardy over what some officials fear could be White House retaliation for his role in last year’s impeachment inquiry."

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) went to bat for the lieutenant colonel, vowing to hold up Army promotions until she was assured the White House wouldn't interfere with Vindman's advancement. The senator apparently never received any assurances, and Vindman decided to walk away.

I suspect we haven't heard the last of this story, but the claim that Vindman was subjected to "bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" by Trump is extremely easy to believe.

Vindman first came to public light in October, when we learned that the lieutenant colonel -- at the time, the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council -- heard the president try to extort Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky last summer. Vindman was so concerned by Trump's misconduct that he reported it to a superior and agreed to testify under oath about the controversy.

Almost immediately, Trump started taking shots on Twitter. Soon after, the president hinted that he had secret evidence against Vindman, which he would "soon" share with the media. Predictably, the information never materialized.

It wasn't long before the White House's partisan allies joined the campaign, with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), among others, going after the decorated war hero's credibility. House Intelligence Republicans targeted Vindman's character and loyalties, while Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) also took steps to try to smear him.

But it was Trump and his team who led the offensive. The president even took some time at a November cabinet meeting to take a few rhetorical shots at the lieutenant colonel, making a snide comment about Vindman appearing on Capitol Hill in uniform.

After the Senate's impeachment trial, and Trump's enemies list took shape, the story took uglier turns. The president started mocking Vindman, publicly and privately, before falsely accusing him of "insubordination."

Soon after, the retaliation campaign reached a new level when Vindman was ousted from his White House job.

Team Trump also removed Vindman's brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, an Army officer who also worked on the National Security Council staff. As we discussed at the time, Yevgeny Vindman, who goes by Eugene, wasn't involved in any way with the president's Ukraine scandal, but he's Alexander Vindman's brother, so Trump apparently decided he had to go, too.

The next day, Trump tweeted about Alexander Vindman's military rank, putting it in scare quotes as a way of demeaning Vindman's service.

Writing in The Atlantic, Ben Wittes reacted in a way that rang true: "The conduct for which his career has been attacked, what the president calls Vindman's 'insubordination,' was exceptionally brave truth-telling -- both in real time and later when Congress sought to hear from him. When that happened, Vindman did not shrink from the obligation to say what had happened."

As we discussed in February, Vindman did everything right. The decorated war hero served honorably, both on the battlefield and as part of the White House National Security Council, and instead of honoring his service, Trump went on the attack -- because Vindman dared to tell the truth.

I can only wish the White House served Vindman as well as he served us.