White House Weighs Ouster of Aide Who Testified Against Trump




 

(Bloomberg) -- The White House is weighing a plan to dismiss Alexander Vindman from the National Security Council after he testified in President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry, preparing to position the move as part of a broader effort to shrink the foreign policy bureaucracy, two people familiar with the matter said.

Any moves would come after the Senate on Wednesday acquitted Trump on a near party-line vote at the conclusion of the two-week impeachment trial. The White House intends to portray any house-cleaning as part of a downsizing of the NSC staff, not retaliation, according to the people.

Asked Friday whether he wanted Vindman to leave, Trump said: "Well, I'm not happy with him."

Vindman was one of the Democrats' most crucial witness in their impeachment proceedings -- a decorated Army lieutenant colonel, who raised the alarm over the president's July 25 telephone call with Ukraine's leader. Before Vindman's testimony, the only account of that call came from an anonymous whistle-blower whose identity has remained largely hidden to this day, and a partial transcript released by the White House.

Some of the officials being targeted for removal from the NSC would be reassigned because they're perceived as being disloyal to the president, three people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity owing to the sensitivity of personnel moves.

Senior staff were informed on Thursday that some aides would be leaving the White House, the people added. The moves have been in the works since at least last week and could come as soon as Friday.

The departure of Vindman could trigger objections from Democrats and possibly some Republicans. Those concerns could mount if the Trump administration acts against additional government officials.

The plan to remove him suggests that the White House is feeling emboldened to retaliate against those Trump blames for making him the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House.

Vindman has not been told of any change in his status, according to a person close to his legal team, and plans to show up for work until told otherwise. His twin, Yevgeny Vindman, also remains at the NSC and is not aware of any change in his status, that person added.

Trump demands loyalty from his top aides and has repeatedly dismissed officials after they disagreed with him or made critical comments behind his back. The latest actions go further by taking aim at lower-level officials in non-partisan positions.

Vindman, a Ukraine expert and the director of European Affairs on the NSC, became a target of Trump's ire because he raised concerns to the top lawyer at the National Security Council over what he viewed as Trump's inappropriate demand that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic rival, during the call with Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Vindman testified that Trump exerted "inappropriate" pressure on Zelenskiy. Vindman said he felt a responsibility to come forward.

Vindman said the Trump-Zelenskiy call so alarmed him that he reported it through the administration's legal channels. "Without hesitation, I knew that I had to report this to the White House counsel," Vindman testified in November.

Jennifer Williams, a State Department employee assigned to Vice President Mike Pence's staff and who testified on the same day as Vindman, left the White House on Monday after the vice president approved her request to end her rotation early. Her new rotation will be with the United States Central Command, or Centcom.

After his appearance, Vindman was assailed on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr., who called him "a low level partisan bureaucrat and nothing more."

Vindman's rotation at the NSC is supposed to end this summer. His next rotation would likely be at the Department of Defense. In November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that Vindman wouldn't face any retaliation from the Pentagon over his testimony. He reiterated that stance on Friday, saying: "We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that.''

(Updates with Esper comment in final paragraph.)

--With assistance from Josh Wingrove, Jordan Fabian and Roxana Tiron.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net;Nick Wadhams in Washington at nwadhams@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Justin Blum, John Harney

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

Subscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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