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By Michelle L. Kornblit
Associate Attorney

President Trump’s Removal of Impeachment Witnesses Raises Concerns About Whistleblower Retaliation

Last Friday, February 7, 2020, the Trump Administration relieved Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of his duties on the White House National Security Council and prematurely transferred him back to the Pentagon. Lt. Col. Vindman had served as a Ukraine expert on the Council and recently provided sworn testimony to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee pursuant to a subpoena during the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Lt. Col. Vindman, who was on President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president on July 25, 2019, testified before the House in November 2019 that it was “improper for the president” to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival. At the conclusion of Lt. Col. Vindman’s opening statement at the House impeachment hearing, he directed a message to his father: 

"Dad, I’m sitting here today in the US Capitol, talking to our elected professionals, 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 . . . Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."

Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who was also a witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry, was also removed from his position on February 7.  These actions were taken just two days after President Donald Trump was acquitted by the U.S. Senate.

President Trump has made no effort to conceal that the decision to oust Lt. Col. Vindman, along with a decision made to remove his brother, Lt. Col. Yevge Vindman— an Army officer who was a lawyer for the National Security Council and had no role in the impeachment hearing—, was related to Lt. Col. Vindman’s testimony before the House. For example, on February 8, 2020, the day after Lt. Col. Vindman was removed from the National Security Council, President Trump posted on Twitter that Lt. Col. Vindman “was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly.”

Whistleblower and First Amendment advocates argue that the timing of Lt. Col. Vindman’s dismissal and President Trump’s statements demonstrate that the decision was retaliatory. Lt. Col. Vindman’s attorney said in a statement: “There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over . . . Lt. Col. Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth.”

There are a number of federal whistleblower laws that may be implicated by the dismissal of Lt. Col. Vindman, as well as the First Amendment. As a staunch advocate of whistleblower employees, Nichols Kaster is following closely to see whether Lt. Col. Vindman challenges the Trump Administration’s actions.

Nichols Kaster represents employees in broad range of employment-related claims, including whistleblowers who face retaliation for engaging in protected activity. Click here for more information.


References:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/us/politics/alexander-vindman-gordon-sondland-fired.html

https://www.businessinsider.com/vindman-impeachment-testimony-sends-emotional-message-father-2019-11

https://www.npr.org/2020/02/07/803904417/lt-col-alexander-vindman-escorted-out-of-the-white-house-his-lawyer-says

https://time.com/5783160/trumps-attack-on-vindman-may-violate-whistleblower-protection-laws-but-challenging-it-could-be-risky/

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1226154000971681795

Photo by Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash