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

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, Military Affairs, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I’m not sure what your point is. That people are silly to speculate that Trump would violate a norm? That he would retaliate against someone?

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  2. Scott says:

    I don’t know. Given the lunacy of this President and this White House, who can say what the heck will happen. So what was this story about? Someone sending a warning shot to the White House not to interfere. Or someone creating mischief by daring the President to interfere. It is not as if Trump were above vindictiveness and pettiness. Actually, that seems the likeliest path.

    Given that the Trump and the White House is obsessed with loyalty and obeisance (https://www.axios.com/john-mcentee-white-house-trump-a799d519-aa2f-4e3d-b081-601f8193d75d.html), how can you not expect some apparatchik to look for favor by bring this up.

    This endless Kremlinology of this administration is exhausing.

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  3. KM says:

    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.

    It always manages to surprise me how he’s got his cult snowed into thinking things happen without his consent or knowledge, then *stay* that way once he’s registered his crankiness. While the power of the Presidency are not unlimited, they are vast and can affect much if one really wants to get something done. As Commander in Chief, MAGAts believe he’s the Boss and god-given leader to the military but somehow that evil Deep State keeps thwarting him like a Scooby Doo villain. Never his fault, never his incompetence or negligence. Dammit liberals – why didn’t anyone tell me we were omnipotent?!

    Also, congratulations to the new Colonel Vindman and thank you for doing what hundreds of spineless Congresscritters couldn’t – your duty to your country when you knew they wouldn’t and the price you could pay. Thank you for being an example of what loyalty and patriotism truly mean.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I’m not sure what your point is. That people are silly to speculate that Trump would violate a norm? That he would retaliate against someone?

    No, I acknowledge all of that in the piece. The point is that speculation isn’t news.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Congrats Col. Vindman.

    As a matter of procedure, I believe any attempt by the WH to block Vindman’s commission would need to emanate directly from Tiny as no administration official would be above the Defense Secretary in the governments hierarchy. So yes, if Vindman were to be blocked, it would have happened quietly, already.

    The reported worrying by Defense Dept officials is pearl clutching, caused by the PTSD that they experience working for someone as unstable as Tiny.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    I think the news part is in the first paragraph:

    that President Trump might again intervene in military affairs, according to officials familiar with the matter.

    They are implying that this isn’t just idle speculation, but that people familiar with the promotion are actively warning that it is being jeopardized by Trump and his henchmen’s interference. The rest of the article is background and speculation.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: Yes, and, again, I think Shane Harris and Greg Miller are fine reporters with excellent sources. But the lede is incredibly flabby for reporters of their chops:

    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.

    The first clause is powerful, with a strong declarative: is. But after that, even the caveats have caveats: fear, could, possibility, might. That’s four maybes in a single sentence.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Fair enough

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  9. Doctor Jay says:

    I have a wild guess about how this story came to be. With Bolton’s book coming out, people are naturally going to think about Vindman and make the comparison. So, asks the reporter’s editor, what’s happening with Vindman? The reporter digs around finds some facts that aren’t especially newsworthy, but has also got some salacious speculation and the editor decides to run with it, rather than just write off the time spent calling around.