White House officials sent document to Pentagon criticizing Vindman after impeachment testimony

The Pentagon got the document as Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was on track to be promoted to colonel. Sources said the accusations could block a promotion if found to be true.
House Intelligence Committee during the House impeachment inquiry concerning President Donald Trump
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman appears before the House Intelligence Committee during the House impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill on Nov. 19.Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

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By Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube

WASHINGTON — The National Security Council sent a list of allegations about Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman to the Pentagon after he testified before the House in impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, according to a person who has seen the document and two others who were briefed on it.

The Pentagon received the document, which alleged that Vindman created a hostile work environment at the NSC, as he was on track to be promoted to colonel. The accusations outlined in it, if substantiated, would have kept him from moving up a rank in the Army, the people familiar with the document said. They said it was not the typical evaluation that military officers serving on the NSC are given when their temporary positions end and they are set to return to the Defense Department, as Vindman was scheduled to do about six months after the document was sent to the Pentagon.

The NSC is housed in the White House and chaired by the president, although it's managed day to day by the national security adviser.

The Pentagon conducted a command-level investigation into the allegations, looking for evidence to substantiate the claims about Vindman's conduct while he was detailed to the NSC, the people familiar with the document said. But ultimately the military could not corroborate any of the accusations, they said. Included in the list was an accusation that Vindman had verbally abused a colleague, a senior administration official said.

The list of allegations suggests that the White House tried to derail the promotion of an Army officer the president said he wasn't "happy" with and viewed as disloyal. It could also suggest that White House retaliation against Vindman for his impeachment testimony went beyond ousting him and his twin brother from the NSC in February, before their time was up.

Vindman's promotion recently had become a flashpoint between the White House and the Pentagon, which planned to move forward with it this summer, despite the president's opposition. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made it clear to the White House that he would not strike Vindman's name from the Army's list of promotions, two people familiar with the matter said. Esper made the case to Trump in recent weeks that blocking Vindman's promotion would hurt his presidency, the two people said.

Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman declined to comment on internal administration communications.

Last week, Vindman asked to retire from the Army after more than two decades in the military, with his attorney saying in a statement that Vindman had endured "a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" from the president.

The White House and the NSC did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Vindman declined to comment.

The Army selected Vindman to be promoted to colonel earlier this year. The list of soldiers selected for promotion to colonel, which included Vindman's name, was expected to be made public in mid-May. It was sent from the Army to the Pentagon's Personnel Office and ultimately to Esper earlier this summer. A defense official said Esper approved the list July 6.

While the coronavirus pandemic has delayed some paperwork, including promotions, three defense officials said the list was held up because some defense officials were worried the White House would remove Vindman's name from it.

The NSC sent its list of accusations against Vindman to the Defense Department's executive secretary in late 2019, according to two people familiar with the memo.

For the Pentagon's investigation into the allegation that Vindman had been verbally abusive to a colleague with whom he shared office space, defense officials interviewed both Vindman and the colleague. They found that the two had gotten into an argument but that it was just a minor spat and that they continued to work together afterward.

After Vindman was forced out of the NSC in February, Trump suggested that the Army might take some sort of action against him for unspecified allegations of wrongdoing. "We sent him on his way to a much different location, and the military can handle him any way they want," Trump said.

Vindman, who was born in Ukraine in 1975 and moved to New York at age 3, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army in 1999. He is an Iraq combat veteran and was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds inflicted by a roadside bomb in 2005. He was a Russia expert on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon from 2015 to 2018 and moved to the NSC in 2018.

He was subpoenaed to testify during impeachment proceedings against Trump last fall, and he told Congress that the president had tried to force the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden.

Vindman's retirement is effective July 31.