The Department of Defense inspector general on Wednesday concluded that Army Col. Yevgeny S. Vindman faced illegal retaliation after filing ethics complaints against President Trump and senior national security officials in his administration.
The findings close out a 2020 complaint by then-Lt. Col. Vindman, who served as a senior ethics official in the National Security Council during the Trump administration.
In his complaint, then-Lt. Col. Vindman — he was promoted to a full colonel in 2021 — alleged that Trump officials targeted him for making several protected complaints and for his association with his twin brother, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key witness in the first Trump impeachment proceedings.
“We found, based on a preponderance of the evidence, that the Complainant was the subject of unfavorable personnel actions from administration officials,” the inspector general report concluded. “Furthermore, we concluded based on a preponderance of the evidence, that these actions would not have occurred or been withheld absent the Complainant’s protected communications.”
Lt. Col. Vindman accused Michael Ellis, the former NSC deputy legal adviser, and John Eisenberg, the former deputy White House counsel and NSC legal adviser, of giving him an adverse rating on his evaluation report and for not recommending him for an end of tour award after completing his NSC staff assignment.
He also accused Robert O’Brien, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, and Alexander Gray, the former NSC chief of staff, of removing him from his position at the NSC.
Lt. Col. Vindman said the actions were attempts to derail his career after making “protected communications” alleging that Mr. Trump violated U.S. laws during his 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelenskyy to investigate allegations against Joe Biden, then a Democratic presidential candidate. He also said the retaliation was based on his having accused the NSC staff of “sexist behavior” and of using staff to perform personal errands.
Soon after Lt. Col. Vindman made his complaint, the Democratic chairs of four House committees or subcommittees called on the Defense Department to launch an investigation.
The calls were made Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York (Oversight and Reform), Adam Schiff of California (Intelligence), Adam Smith of Washington (Armed Services), and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts (Oversight’s subcommittee on national security).
Those same lawmakers Wednesday praised the inspector general’s findings which they said “validate Colonel Vindman’s claims of reprisal,” but called on further reforms to protect whistleblowers.
“After Watergate, Congress passed significant reforms to ensure that whenever federal personnel made disclosures, they would be protected from reprisal,” the lawmakers wrote in a joint statement. “The Trump administration – and President Trump himself – broke that promise by targeting whistleblowers and individuals connected to them with a vengeance. That can never be allowed to happen again, under any administration.”
Lt. Col. Vindman’s performance record was corrected before the inspector general completed its investigation and he was promoted last year.
His brother retired from the Army in 2020, citing fears that his career would be limited due to political retaliation from Mr. Trump and his allies.
The inspector general report makes no recommendations pertaining to the officials named in the complaint, all of whom have departed their positions in the White House.
• Joseph Clark can be reached at email@example.com.
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