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Vindman brother files whistleblower complaint with Pentagon alleging retaliation

Trump fires impeachment witnesses
Trump fires impeachment witnesses 02:21

Washington — The Democratic leaders of three House committees are asking the Defense Department's acting inspector general to investigate whether the Trump administration retaliated against Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a key witness in President Trump's impeachment proceedings, and his twin brother, Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman.

The request from the leaders of the House Oversight and Reform, Intelligence and Armed Services Committees comes after Yevgeny Vindman filed a whistleblower complaint with the Pentagon last week alleging he was punished after he raised concerns about Mr. Trump's July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which was at the center of House's impeachment investigation. He also flagged possible legal and ethical violations by National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien and National Security Council (NSC) Chief of Staff Alex Gray.

Mark Zaid, an attorney who handles whistleblower cases, confirmed his law firm is representing Yevgeny Vindman and that he filed a whistleblower complaint stating "senior White Houses officials, to include the president, retaliated against him for performing his duty as an attorney and soldier."

"Actions were improperly taken against him in retaliation for his protected disclosures involving matters that ultimately led to the president's impeachment as well as disclosures of misconduct by other current senior members of the president's national security team," Yevgeny Vindman's legal team said in a statement. Zaid also represented the anonymous whistleblower who filed a complaint with the intelligence community's inspector general about Mr. Trump's dealings with Ukraine, which prompted the impeachment probe.

According to Democratic lawmakers Carolyn Maloney, Adam Smith, Adam Schiff and Stephen Lynch, Yevgeny Vindman reported "multiple allegations" that O'Brien and Gray "committed several ethics and legal compliance violations, misused government resources, excluded women from meetings and made sexist and demeaning remarks to female NSC staffers, including inappropriately commenting on women's looks and 'talk[ing] down' to women." Yevgeny Vindman worked as a NSC deputy legal adviser and senior ethics official on the NSC staff.

White House communications director Alyssa Farah called the allegations "ridiculous and false."

"Ambassador Robert O'Brien and these other senior staff are highly valued members of the president's national security team with impeccable reputations during their years in public service," she said in a statement. "Under Ambassador O'Brien and his team, the National Security Council staff has the largest number of female senior leaders ever. These allegations are an example of precisely what's wrong with Washington – a junior-level disgruntled former detailee, with whom Ambassador O'Brien had almost no interaction, can launch baseless attacks for partisan purposes."

Farah said House Democrats and press outlets who reported on the allegations from Yevgeny Vindman harbored the "ultimate goal of harming the president."

"Mr. Yevgeny Vindman is no longer at the NSC after his detail was ended following poor performance, as revealed in the House Democrats' letter," she said. "He now attempts to retaliate against his former supervisors for providing an accurate assessment of his performance, and, as the House Democrats admit, he didn't even contemporaneously memorialize his supposed concerns."

In their letter to Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell, the Democrats said Yevgeny Vindman wrote in his complaint that between July 25 and August 5, 2019, he had at least three conversations with White House lawyer John Eisenberg, during which he raised concerns about the president's call with Zelensky. During the phone call, Mr. Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. 

The Democrats also told O'Donnell that Yevgeny Vindman voiced concerns about O'Brien in the fall of 2019, including the national security adviser's alleged use of official government resources for personal activities. They said Yevgeny Vindman told his superiors that O'Brien's taxpayer-funded travel to Utah and California with his wife would create an "appearance of impropriety and personal conflict of interest." The trip included a speaking engagement for the Brigham Young University Air Force ROTC Unit where O'Brien's daughter was a member of the Corps of Cadets.

The committee chairs said Yevgeny Vindman also recounted in his complaint that during an ethics briefing he provided to O'Brien in September 2019, O'Brien "became agitated and angry" when Yevgeny Vindman and his colleagues informed the national security adviser about conflicts of interest and gifts from private entities, including who could purchase his meals.

Yevgeny Vindman met with Eisenberg and another NSC lawyer, Michael Ellis, in January to "discuss a series of potential legal and ethical violations involving" O'Brien and Gray, the letter from the Democrats said. He reportedly told the two lawyers that O'Brien and Gray were "misusing NSC staff official time for personal errands including scheduling haircut appointments, retrieving personal luggage and to coordinate personal dinner arrangements."

Additionally, Yevgeny Vindman told Eisenberg and Ellis in January he believed O'Brien circumvented government ethics standards on at least two occasions: first by offering during a December meeting to connect SpaceX's chief executive officer with the Pentagon, and then by accepting a meeting in January with a member of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors "under the pretense of a social call," even though it was described by the governor as for "5G and the USPS/Autonomous vehicles,/etc," Democrats wrote.

The Democrats said the Trump administration "appears to have taken a series of personnel actions against LTC Y. Vindman in retaliation for joining his brother in raising concerns with his rating chain" about Mr. Trump's call with Zelensky and the potential misconduct by O'Brien and Gray.

"These actions include reducing LTC Y. Vindman's portfolio of responsibilities, excluding him from important NSC meetings and official events, removing him from his NSC position and escorting him and his brother off the White House grounds, and filing a derogatory performance review," they wrote to O'Donnell.

The Democratic leaders cite differences between a pair of officer evaluation reports issued by Eisenberg before and after the ensuing events. In the first report, dated July 1, 2019, Yevgeny Vindman is described as "the epitome of an Army officer and lawyer," and "a hard-working, disciplined, tough-minded team player who manifests the Army Values. He is unremittingly honest in delivering legal advice, without concern of repercussions." In the July 2019 report, Eisenberg said Yevgeny Vindman should be promoted "immediately" to full colonel.

In the second report from Eisenberg dated April 6, he said Yevgeny Vindman "performed his duties satisfactorily" and over time "displayed increasingly poor judgment and failed to learn from his mistakes. On multiple occasions, his unprofessional demeanor made NSC staff feel uncomfortable."

"Vindman's substandard performance — his lack of judgment, failure to communicate well with his superiors, and inability to differentiate between legal and policy decisions — caused him to lose the trust of NSC senior leadership," the evaluation cited by the Democrats stated. "With additional counseling and experience, LTC [Y.] Vindman's performance may improve. He would benefit from additional experience in a slower-paced work environment subject to less pressure and scrutiny. In time, he may become a better attorney."

The Democrats said the "drastic change between these performance evaluations during the specific timeframe in which LTC Y. Vindman raised ethics and legal compliance concerns within his rating chain and with NSC leadership, coupled with other personnel actions taken against LTC Y. Vindman, provide evidence of the pattern of retaliatory actions taken against him."

The request to the Pentagon's inspector general is the second the Democrats have made regarding the Vindman brothers. In July, Maloney, Schiff and Lynch asked for an investigation into whether the Trump administration sought to retaliate against Alexander Vindman after his testimony before the House.

Both Yevgeny Vindman and Alexander Vindman were escorted from the White House in February after the Senate acquitted Mr. Trump on two charges of abuse of power and construction of Congress. The president was impeached by the House in December.

Alexander Vindman retired from the U.S. Army earlier this month after what his lawyer called a "campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation" led by Mr. Trump. 

Kristin Brown contributed reporting.

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