Key Figure In The Impeachment Inquiry Retires From The Military
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Before the coronavirus hit the U.S., before the latest battles over Confederate monuments and protests for racial justice, the biggest news story was impeachment. Remember that? And one of the key figures in the investigation that eventually led to President Trump's impeachment last December was Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Here he is testifying before Congress last November.
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ALEXANDER VINDMAN: 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.
CHANG: Well, today, Vindman resigned from the military after 21 years. Through his lawyer, he said his career had been stymied by President Trump's use of, quote, "bullying, intimidation and retaliation." For more, we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hello, Ailsa.
CHANG: So that was a very pointed statement from Vindman today. Can you just tell us more about what he said?
MYRE: Vindman raised these concerns last year, the statement said, because, quote, "that's what the law compelled him to do." And for that, he was bullied by the president and his proxies. The statement went on to say that Vindman's patriotism has cost him his job. Vindman put out a tweet of his own, showed him in civilian clothes at a laptop saying, today I officially requested retirement from the U.S. Army, an organization I love.
CHANG: Well, just remind us how Lt. Col. Vindman became such a prominent figure in the Ukraine impeachment story.
MYRE: So he was serving a tour at the White House on the National Security Council in his area of expertise, which is Ukraine. And then last July 25 - seems a long time ago, but less than a year ago, this now infamous phone call took place between Presidents Trump and Zelenskiy. Now, Trump pressed the Ukrainian leader for an investigation of Joe Biden and his work that he'd done in Ukraine. Vindman was listening in in the White House Situation Room and was concerned about this, raised it through channels. He was not the unidentified whistleblower we've heard about, but he was a key figure in his testimony last fall because he heard the actual call. Here's what he said then.
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VINDMAN: I was concerned by the call. What I heard was inappropriate. It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent.
CHANG: And what's happened to Vindman since that testimony?
MYRE: So Trump ousted Vindman from this White House job in February and tweeted at that time that Vindman was, quote, "very insubordinate." Vindman was literally escorted out of the White House. He returned to an Army job. But that wasn't quite the end of it. There was this other showdown that's been looming. Vindman was on the Pentagon's list to be promoted, in line to go from lieutenant colonel to full colonel. But the White House has to sign off on this list, and it's pretty clear that's not what the president wanted. Vindman clearly felt his promotion and his career was blocked. But now that he's resigned, he would be free to speak out if that's what he wants to do.
CHANG: And how is the White House responding so far to Vindman's retirement?
MYRE: They haven't, but it certainly is a sign of this ongoing tension between Trump and the military. I mean, most recently we heard that the president wanted to use the military against protesters in American cities. He faced strong pushback from the Pentagon leadership and from former military leaders like Jim Mattis, who sharply criticized the president.
CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Greg Myre.
Thank you, Greg.
MYRE: My pleasure.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION:In this report, we incorrectly say that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman resigned. He retired, which comes with retirement pay and benefits. Resignation denotes severing all ties with the military.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.