President Donald Trump on Feb. 8 defended the ousting of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, calling the former National Security Council (NSC) staffer “very insubordinate.”
Vindman, who testified against Trump during the House’s impeachment inquiry in 2019, was escorted from the White House on Feb. 7.
Trump said that cable news kept speaking of Vindman “as though I should think only how wonderful he was.”
“Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly, & was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information,” Trump wrote in a statement on Twitter.
“In other words, ‘OUT.'”
It was the first official confirmation of Vindman being removed from his position on the National Security Council.
Trump appeared to be referring to testimony from Tim Morrison, another former council official who told lawmakers he considered Vindman unreliable and said Vindman may have leaked information. Morrison said that Fiona Hill, another NSC official, and others had concerns about Vindman’s judgment.
Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman, denied Trump’s claims, in a statement to media outlets on Feb. 8.
“The President this morning made a series of obviously false statements concerning Lieutenant Colonel Vindman,” Pressman said in the statement. “They conflict with the clear personnel record and the entirety of the impeachment record of which the President is well aware.
“While the most powerful man in the world continues his campaign of intimidation, while too many entrusted with political office continue to remain silent, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman continues his service to our country as a decorated, active duty member of our military.”
Asked about the concerns during the House inquiry, Vindman last year produced an evaluation from Hill saying he “exercises excellent judgement” and said Morrison’s concerns may have stemmed from a difference in stance toward approaching work.
Vindman spoke extensively during the House inquiry of his feelings about Trump’s July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Vindman, who said he was offered a top post in the Ukrainian government multiple times, described the call as shocking.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Vindman told lawmakers in November 2019. “It was probably an element of shock—that maybe, in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, and how this was likely to have significant implications for U.S. national security.”
Vindman said he reported his concerns to John Eisenberg, a White House lawyer.
The official White House Twitter account criticized Vindman as he was testifying, alleging that the impeachment efforts against Trump were a sham. Trump was impeached the following month but acquitted by the Senate this month.
Trump told reporters earlier on Feb. 7 that he was “not happy” with Vindman.
“You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not,” he said, adding that White House officials would decide whether to fire or reassign Vindman.
Vindman, who was scheduled to stay on the council until July, could be reassigned to the Pentagon, according to several reports citing anonymous sources. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said when questioned about the situation that “we welcome back all of our service members, wherever they serve, to any assignment they are given.”
“We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that,” he said.
Another person who took the stand during the House hearings said on Feb. 7 that he was going to be recalled from his position.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said through his lawyer that he was told that Trump “intends to recall me effective immediately.”
The White House and the Department of Defense did not respond to requests for comment.
Jack Phillips, Mimi Nguyen Ly, and Janita Kan contributed to this report.
Update: The article was updated to include a statement from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s lawyer.