President Trump on Tuesday suggested the military should consider additional disciplinary action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who provided damaging testimony against Trump in the impeachment inquiry and was reassigned from his White House job last week.
“We sent him on his way to a much different location, and the military can handle him any way they want,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “Gen. Milley has him now. I congratulate Gen. Milley. He can have him.”
Gen. Mark Milley is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Asked specifically 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,” he said.
The president’s comments on Tuesday signaled he was open to additional punishment for officials who testified against him in the impeachment inquiry. Some of his allies have sought to cast the ouster of witnesses like Vindman as justifiable reassignments rather than retribution.
Speaking at an Atlantic Council event hours after Trump’s remarks, national security adviser Robert O’Brien insisted that Vindman and his twin brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who was also dismissed from his White House position on Friday, were not retaliated against.
“At the end of the day, the president is entitled to staffers that want to execute his policy, that he has confidence in, and I think every president is entitled to that,” O’Brien said. “But there is absolutely no retaliation with respect to the Vindmans as far as impeachment goes.”
O’Brien also said that the reassignments were his decision and that he stood by them.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump said there were more departures to come, but it was unclear if he was referring specifically to impeachment witnesses.
“We protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that. We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference with his Colombian counterpart.
Vindman had been working temporarily at the White House as a member of the National Security Council when he was dismissed. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was fired later the same day.
Both officials were among those who testified about Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine during House impeachment inquiry hearings last year. The House ultimately impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, alleging he withheld security aid from Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate his political rivals.
The Senate acquitted Trump last week in a party-line vote.
Vindman proved to be one of Democrats’ most memorable witnesses. A Purple Heart recipient, Vindman testified that he believed Trump’s conduct on a July 25 call with the Ukrainian president was inappropriate and that he reported it to his superior.
Trump has mocked Vindman for wearing his military uniform during the hearing and complained about the contents of his testimony.
On Tuesday, the president accused Vindman of leaking and going outside the chain of command.
“I obviously wasn’t happy with the job he did,” Trump said. “What was said on the call was totally appropriate. I call it a perfect call; I always will call it a perfect call.”
Morgan Chalfant contributed.