Alexander Vindman Selected for Colonel
The former NSC staffer who testified against Trump is at a career crossroads.
A non-story story in today’s Washington Post from the solid reporting team of Shane Harris, Missy Ryan, Josh Dawsey and Greg Miller (“Role in Trump’s impeachment casts shadow over Army officer’s promotion“):
An Army officer’s promotion is in jeopardy over what some officials fear could be White House retaliation for his role in last year’s impeachment inquiry, raising the possibility that President Trump might again intervene in military affairs, according to officials familiar with the matter.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who received a Purple Heart for his actions in Iraq and later served as a White House aide on European affairs, is among hundreds of officers selected to be promoted to full colonel this year. Such promotions are typically signed off on by Army and then Pentagon leaders before moving to the White House and the Senate for a confirmation vote. The list is now with a Pentagon personnel office.
At the time of the testimony, there was rampant speculation—which I helped spread—that Trump would punish Vindman for doing his duty. There was even talk of his being court-martialed. But, on reflection, the argument was grasping at straws.
Yes, Vindman was reassigned, along with a lot of other staffers seconded from government agencies, in a purge of non-loyalists. And there was talk of the Army investigating Vindman for impropriety. And Trump loyalists scuttling Vindman’s chances at the colonel’s board, which is very selective to begin with.
Thus far, though, nothing happened. The Secretary of the Army declined to investigate. And Vindman got selected for colonel—a rare achievement for a Foreign Area Officer and is scheduled to attend the highly selective National War College in the fall.
It would be noteworthy, indeed, if Vindman’s name were struck at this point. So, what’s the evidence?
Multiple government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address personnel matters, have voiced concern, however, that the White House could strike Vindman’s name once it is conveyed, effectively sanctioning him for testimony he gave under subpoena to House lawmakers.
They have “voiced concern” that it “could” happen?
A senior official said the White House has not received or approved a list of those up for promotions. A second official said that Trump dislikes Vindman more than any other witness in the impeachment proceeding and noted that he was the first one fired when it ended.
“The president said it was a ‘total disgrace’ what he did,” the official said.
The second official said they didn’t know what Trump would do but couldn’t imagine that he would support Vindman’s promotion.
Okay. But, while the President’s name is attached to any new commission, he doesn’t actually sign it. The list is naturally vetted to make sure something odd didn’t happen and goes on to the Senate. But it’s rare, indeed, for either of those steps to stop a promotion at this level. Making full colonel is a mark of an outstanding career, but it’s not big-time from the standpoint of the White House or Senate.
One U.S. official said that finalization of the Army promotion roster had been held up longer than originally anticipated by a number of factors including the coronavirus crisis and concerns that the White House might remove Vindman’s name from the list.
And several officers up for promotion have said they anticipated that the final list would have been approved by now and that it was being held up over Vindman and the potential reaction from the president his ascension might trigger.
Harris and Miller, in particular, are outstanding national security reporters. But this is just very thin, indeed.
Would it absolutely shock me were Trump to trying to block the promotion? No. Would it surprise me if he put out some sort of Twitter rant once the promotion was approved? Hell, it would surprise me if he didn’t.
But, if I had to bet, it would be that Sandy Vindman will be wearing eagles on his epaulets when he graduates from McNair.
(I’m curious whether his twin brother, Yevgeny, was selected as well. He was also caught up in the purge but it’s even more unusual for lawyers to make colonel than FSOs.)
UPDATE (July 8): Vindman Abruptly Retiring from Army