The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that he expected Defense Secretary Mark Esper to live up to his promise of no retaliation against Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, whose testimony was pivotal in the House vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas said he was "counting on Secretary Esper to make sure that happens" and that Vindman's career in the military will not be derailed by Trump's move Feb. 7 to oust him from the White House National Security Council staff.
Vindman's twin brother, Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who served with his brother on the NSC staff as a lawyer and ethics adviser, was also escorted off the White House grounds by the Secretary Service last Friday.
"Of course, I have concerns about the President voicing opinions and what that means to good order and discipline" in the military, Thornberry said at a round table with defense reporters on budget matters.
"Some things the president has said and tweeted -- I wish he hadn't," Thornberry said. He said he was counting Esper "to do what he said" and "ensure there's no retribution."
"His career needs to proceed based on his talents and abilities," Thornberry said of Vindman. "My point is, treat him just like anybody else."
Shortly before Vindman was ousted last week, Esper said at a Pentagon briefing that "we protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that. We've already addressed that in policy and other means."
Thornberry said it was his understanding that Vindman, who received a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq, would now be assigned to the Senior Staff College at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, usually seen as a stepping stone to promotion.
Shortly after Vindman was fired, Trump also recalled Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, from his post in Brussels.
Sondland had testified that he believed Trump was withholding military aid for Ukraine until an investigation was launched into former Vice President Joe Biden, and it amounted to a "quid pro quo."
In tweets and in remarks to reporters in the Oval Office last week, Trump made clear that he was unhappy with Vindman for testifying before the House impeachment proceedings that a July 25 phone call Trump made to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was "improper" and "inappropriate."
"It was improper for the president to request, to demand an investigation into a political opponent," Vindman testified at the House impeachment hearings in November.
"Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about 'Lt. Col.' Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was," Trump tweeted Feb. 7. "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. In other words, 'OUT.'"
When asked by reporters Monday whether Vindman should face disciplinary action for his testimony, Trump said it would be up to the military to decide.
"We'll have to see. But if you look at what happened, they're going to certainly -- I would imagine -- take a look at that."
Vindman's lawyer, David Pressman, said last Friday that his client's firing was payback for his testimony.
Vindman "was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful," Pressman said. "There is no question in the mind of any American why this man's job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.