Key impeachment witness Vindman retires from the Army, citing Trump 'bullying, intimidation, and retaliation'

Vindman was set to be promoted to full colonel this year.
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

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By Dareh Gregorian and Courtney Kube

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key witness in the impeachment case against President Donald Trump, announced Wednesday that he's retiring from the Army, with his lawyer alleging a "campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation" by the president as the reason.

Vindman was set to be promoted to full colonel this year, but multiple government officials had expressed concern that the White House could block the 21-year veteran's promotion, The Washington Post first reported last month.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., announced last week she would block the Senate confirmation of more than 1,000 senior armed forces promotions until Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed in writing that he did not, or would not, block Vindman's "expected and deserved promotion."

Vindman, who'd worked in the White House as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, was subpoenaed by House investigators in the impeachment probe, He testified about the July 25, 2019, call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, saying he thought Trump's conduct in the call was "improper" and "inappropriate."

"Over the last months, LTC Vindman has been guided by a very simple and very American principle: ‘Here, right matters,’" his lawyer, David Pressman, said in a statement. "He has spoken publicly once, and only pursuant to a subpoena from the United States Congress."

Pressman said Vindman was retiring Wednesday because "it has been made clear that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited."

Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran, tweeted that he was resigning "from an organization I love. My family and I look forward to the next chapter of our lives."

Vindman was ousted from his White House job after the Senate acquitted Trump.

"I'm not happy with him," Trump said of Vindman at the time. "Do you think I'm supposed to be happy with him? I'm not."

Vindman's twin brother, also an Army lieutenant colonel, was escorted from the White House grounds on the same day his brother was removed. Yevgeny Vindman was working as a senior lawyer and ethics official for the NSC and had not testified in the impeachment inquiry.

"Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation," Pressman said, "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. 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."

"LTC Vindman did what the law compelled him to do; and for that he was bullied by the president and his proxies," Pressman continued. "And yet, LTC Vindman would not be intimidated and will not be corrupted. He did what he has always done: put the interests of his country ahead of his own."

Former national security adviser John Bolton, who raised red flags about Trump's conduct with Ukraine but refused to cooperate with the House probe, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that Vindman's departure is "really a loss for the country."

"He merited promotion," Bolton said. "His performance was exceptional. So was the performance of his twin brother, Yev."

"You know, it was just as unacceptable for Vindman, I think, to be singled out, for Alex Vindman to be singled out, even worse, in a sense, for his brother, Yev, whose only sin, as far as I can tell, was, he was his twin," Bolton added.

He also blamed Duckworth for the resignation, and said her decision to put a hold on promotions until she got answers about Vindman put him in "an intolerable position."

"I think he would see the honorable thing to do there, in part, to get out of their way, which he would not have had to do had she not interfered this way," Bolton said. "This is a situation where both Trump and Duckworth are wrong."

Duckworth pointed the finger at the secretary of Defense.

“Secretary [Mark] 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," she said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Wednesday, "The shameful firing of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman from the White House was a clear and brazen act of retaliation that showcases the president’s fear of the truth, which continues to this day. The firing was one of countless instances of the president putting his personal interest above our national security."

Rep. Adam Schiff, who was the lead prosecutor in the impeachment case, sent a letter to Vindman Wednesday saying he knows that his retirement is not how he envisioned his decorated Army career ending.

"It should not have ended this way," Schiff said. "You should not have been subjected to bullying and retaliation from this President. You should not have had to choose between your oath of office and your career. You followed your patriotic and legal duty to tell the truth."

The California Democrat also tweeted, "Alexander Vindman did his duty and told the truth about presidential misconduct, because here, right matters. Col. Vindman’s patriotism is incomprehensible to the likes of Donald Trump, but it is at the heart of America’s strength."

Schiff later told MSNBC's Ari Melber that the news of Vindman's resignation was "heartbreaking."

"But I don’t think the story is over for this patriotic American. He’s moving on to a different chapter. It’s tragic that he should be compelled to retire for these reasons, but he has, I think, earned the admiration of millions and millions of Americans," Schiff said.

When he testified publicly, Vindman addressed his immigrant father, saying he should not worry about his decision to go before Congress.

“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,” Vindman said.

"Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."