Vindman has endured a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” spearheaded by the President following his testimony in the impeachment inquiry last year, according to his attorney, Amb. David Pressman.
News of Vindman’s retirement marks the culmination of a months-long saga dating back to his public testimony in November.
In recent weeks, the controversy has centered around allegations that the White House was attempting to block Vindman’s upcoming military promotion to the rank of colonel.
“The President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers,” Pressman said in a statement to CNN.
“These are choices that no one in the United States should confront, especially one who has dedicated his life to serving it,” he added, noting that Vindman “did what the law compelled him to do; and for that he was bullied by the President and his proxies.”
Top Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, have insisted that Vindman is not being targeted for political reasons, but a source familiar with his decision said military officials have communicated to Vindman that the White House has sought to become involved in the promotion process.
In response, Vindman was told that that there have been discussions within the Department of Defense about sending his name forward on a “list of one” or holding his name back until after the election to avoid impacting the promotions of other service members, the source said.
It is “absurd and frightening” for the White House to be involved in promotions at this level, the source added.
Specifically, Vindman was told by senior Army officials that he would no longer be deployable in his area of expertise, which includes Ukraine, the source familiar with the situation told CNN.
He was also told by senior officers he would need a “rehabilitative assignment” even if he had opted to attend the National War College, an option he had been considering before Wednesday’s announcement, the source added.
In one case, a senior officer quipped about sending him to “man a radar station in Alaska,” the source said.
The White House and Pentagon did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Vindman said that he reported his concerns out of a “sense of duty,” and he defended his fellow witnesses from what he described as “reprehensible” attacks.
Testifying in his Army uniform as an active-duty soldier, Vindman invoked his father’s decision to leave the Soviet Union and come to the US, noting that the testimony he was giving would likely get him killed in Russia. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth,” Vindman said in a now well-known line.
But Vindman remained a focal point of Trump’s ire as impeachment proceedings moved to the Senate, facing a wave of unfounded attacks from the President and his allies during the trial portion.
During oral arguments in the Senate trial in late January, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, attacked Vindman in multiple tweets over several hours, going so far as to question the Purple Heart recipient’s patriotism.
She also repeated the unfounded claim that Vindman had leaked knowledge of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the whistleblower whose complaint initially prompted the investigation into the President’s conduct in Ukraine.
After he was fired from the NSC in February, an Army spokesperson told CNN that Vindman had been reassigned to the Department of the Army.
The President later defended Vindman’s firing from the National Security Council. Trump complained about news coverage of the firing in a tweet, saying reporting was done “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!).”
Democrats called on Esper to protect Vindman
Top military leaders, including Esper, have insisted that Vindman would be protected from retaliation of any kind after he transitioned back to the Pentagon, but some Democratic lawmakers have made it clear they believe that he is still being targeted by the White House.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois announced last week that she is blocking Senate confirmation of 1,123 senior US Armed Forces promotions until she receives assurances that Vindman’s promotion wouldn’t be blocked.
The initial list of promotions Duckworth is holding up does not include Vindman’s name, as he is included in a later batch.
Duckworth’s power play, which her office described as “unprecedented in modern history,” takes advantage of unanimous consent procedures in the Senate that are used to efficiently conduct Senate business. Typically, a large batch of non-controversial military promotions, like the ones Duckworth is holding up, would be passed all at once with just a few words exchanged on the floor between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and whoever is the presiding officer.
But instead of granting consent to pass the promotions, Duckworth objected, meaning McConnell would have to go through the time-consuming process of filing motions to overcome what amounts to her filibuster.
In an interview with CNN last week, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said he believed Vindman, who worked under him at the NSC, deserved to be promoted based on what he observed during his time in the administration.
“Based on not just his service, but his twin brother’s service at the NSC, both of whom were pushed out of their assignments early, I think they certainly deserve promotion based on what I saw,” Bolton said to CNN’s Jake Tapper while promoting his new book “In the Room Where it Happened.”
“They shouldn’t be discriminated against. I hope there’s nobody in the White House who’s holding this up or putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way,” he added. “I think this is something, this kind of corruption of this promotion process, unfortunately, typical of a number of things that have happened in the administration, I think it’s a bad signal to all of our military.”
CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.