Key impeachment witness Vindman fired from White House job

(CNN) — Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, was pushed out of his role Friday months earlier than expected, according to a statement from his attorney. Vindman was not slated to leave until July, but had been telling colleagues in recent weeks he would likely leave soon.

Some Democrats charged that Vindman’s ouster was clearly retribution, as President Donald Trump had continued to fume privately about Vindman’s testimony during the impeachment inquiry.

Trump had foreshadowed Vindman’s dismissal earlier Friday.

“Well, I’m not happy with him,” Trump said. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.”

Vindman, a decorated veteran who was born in Ukraine, was escorted out of the White House by security and told his services were no longer needed, according to his lawyer, David Pressman.

His twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, a National Security Council attorney, was also fired, “suddenly and with no explanation, despite over two decades of loyal service to this country,” Pressman said, and walked off the White House grounds alongside Alex Vindman.

Yevgeny Vindman had never testified or spoke publicly about the Ukraine saga. “He deeply regrets that he will not be able to continue his service at the White House,” Pressman said in a statement.

Before the impeachment inquiry was launched, the Vindman brothers often arrived at work together.

National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said: “We do not comment on personnel matters.”

Vindman is expected to return to the Pentagon, though it’s still unclear what his assignment will be until he’s expected to attend war college this summer.

“We welcome back all of our service members, wherever they serve, to any assignment they are given,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper had said Friday when asked about Vindman’s expected ouster.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said of Vindman’s ouster: “As usual, the White House runs away from the truth. Lt. Col. Vindman lived up to his oath to protect and defend our Constitution. This action is not a sign of strength. It only shows President Trump’s weakness.”

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who’s the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “Lieutenant Colonel Vindman honored his oath and did his duty when he came forward about President Trump’s abuse of power. He deserves the thanks and respect of the American people. But we know that this president believes the only loyalty that matters is loyalty to him personally, so today he had Colonel Vindman escorted out of the White House. … Any senator who voted to keep Trump in office thinking he has learned his lesson must answer for this and for whatever parade of abuses we see in the future.”

While Vindman had only learned from news reports late Thursday night of the potential White House plan to fire him, he’d been steeling himself for this moment since he testified in Trump’s impeachment hearing in November, according to a source familiar.

Of the friends and family reaching out in support of the Purple Heart recipient amid the subsequent attacks from Trump and his allies, some also warned of likely retribution.

One source who spoke with Vindman recently said the veteran originally hoped he could continue to be effective in his role at the National Security Council post-testimony, but was quickly marginalized when he returned to work.

“Alex was a bit naïve about it at first — because he believed that since he did what he thought was right, things would work out,” a source close to him said. “But it eventually became clear that wasn’t how things were going to go this time.”

Vindman had told lawmakers during his November congressional testimony that he reported concerns about Trump’s July 25 call with the leader of Ukraine to the top National Security Council lawyer within hours of the call, and that some of the changes he tried to make to the since-published transcript were left out, though he didn’t say why.

Vindman also told lawmakers that later, he was told not to discuss the call with anyone else.

Vindman — who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq after being wounded in an IED attack and still carries shrapnel from the attack in his body, according to a source close to him — also told lawmakers how his family had fled to the US from the Soviet Union when he was a child.

“The privilege of serving my country is not only rooted in my military service, but also in my personal history. I sit here, as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, an immigrant,” he said. “My family fled the Soviet Union when I was three-and-a-half years old. Upon arriving in New York City in 1979, my father worked multiple jobs to support us, all the while learning English at night. He stressed to us the importance of fully integrating into our adopted country.”

Vindman served multiple overseas tours, including in South Korea and Germany in addition to his deployment to Iraq, according to his prepared remarks.

But now the intense and public backlash from the President and his supporters has put Vindman’s future in the military in question.

“If Alex could stay in the Army forever he would. If he could go continue his career without [the impeachment testimony] following him around for the rest of his life, he would. But it’s not clear he can,” said a source familiar with the situation.

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