The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday it would not be appropriate for the military to take disciplinary action on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for his testimony during President Trump’s impeachment.
“His career needs to proceed based on his talents and abilities,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters about Vindman.
Pressed by The Hill if that means he thinks it would be inappropriate for the military to take disciplinary action against Vindman, Thornberry said, “based on his testimony before, yeah.”
“My point is, treat him just like anybody else,” Thornberry added.
Thornberry was responding to comments President Trump made Tuesday.
Asked if the Pentagon should pursue further action against Vindman, Trump said it would be “up to the military.”
“But if you look at what happened, they’re going to certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that,” Trump said Tuesday in the Oval Office.
Vindman provided damaging testimony during the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The Senate ultimately acquitted Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
On Friday, Vindman and his twin brother, who did not testify during the impeachment process, were escorted from the White House, where they had been working as National Security Council staffers.
An active-duty soldier, Vindman returned to the Army and is expected to be part of the Army War College’s summer class.
On Wednesday, Thornberry suggested it was Trump’s prerogative to remove Vindman from the NSC.
“The NSC staff is the president’s personal staff and if he wants to change somebody out that’s obviously his ability, and I think given the circumstance of this, it would obviously be uncomfortable,” Thornberry said.
Still, Thornberry said the “potential danger” of “any president” weighing in on military disciplinary issues is that career progress could be affected by something other than “objective factors.”
Thornberry also pointed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s comments last week that suggested the Pentagon would not punish Vindman.
At a news conference Friday, Esper told reporters 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 he’s “counting on” Esper to keep his word.
“I’m counting on Esper to do what he said, and that is ensure there is no retribution,” Thornberry said.
“And I guess the other part of that is that his future career will be judged just like any other service member, based on how well he performs,” he added.