A Defense Department report has concluded that Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman was the subject of wrongful retaliation, finding that multiple Trump administration officials, and former President Trump himself, violated federal whistleblower protection laws for targeting and subsequently firing Vindman after he raised concerns regarding Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with the president of Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the office of the Defense Department’s Acting Inspector General, Sean O’Donnell, released its report on its investigations into the whistleblower reprisal complaint that Vindman filed in August 2020, months after his firing.
Between July 2019 and January 2020, Vindman, who served as the ethics counsel on the National Security Council, broached several points of concern with his superiors, some of which his twin brother, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, had raised with him about Trump’s now-infamous "perfect" conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In his testimony as a key witness during Trump’s first impeachment trial, Alexander Vindman told lawmakers he had heard the “inappropriate” phone call and knew “without hesitation” he had to report it.
The Vindman brothers had approached John Eisenberg, who was then a Trump adviser and deputy White House counsel and NSC ;egal counsel, with their concerns about the phone call. The meeting was later joined by Michael Ellis, Vindman’s direct supervisor, serving as deputy legal advisor and senior associate White House counsel at the time.
Vindman also raised concerns that former NSC officials Robert O'Brien and Alexander Gray “engaged in sexist behavior, misused their positions, and misused NSC staff by asking them to perform personal errands,” O’ Donnell wrote in the report. Possible ethics violations, mismanagement and waste of funds, and abuse of authority were other concerns raised by Vindman.
Despite these complaints falling under “protected communication” in 10 U.S.C. § 1034, a statute that bans retaliation against armed forces members for whistleblower complaints, Vindman was slowly relieved of his responsibilities and barred from senior-level meetings.
Two days after Trump’s first impeachment trial, Vindman was removed "abruptly and unceremoniously" from his NSC position, and his brother was fired as well, according to CNN.
“The Complainant experienced his first unfavorable personnel action in the fall of 2019 when his duties and responsibilities started to be reduced, and his second unfavorable personnel action when he received a referred OER [Officer Evaluation Report] for the performance period June 1, 2019, through February 7, 2020,” the IG report stated. “The close proximity in time between the Complainant’s protected communications and the personnel actions raises an inference of reprisal.”
“We found, based on a preponderance of the evidence, that the Complainant was the subject of unfavorable personnel actions from administration officials,” O’Donnell wrote in the report. “Furthermore, we concluded based on a preponderance of the evidence, that these actions would not have occurred or been withheld absent the Complainant’s protected communications.”
The report also noted that Vindman’s former superiors made it difficult for investigators to get their sides of the story.
“We attempted to interview Mr. Ellis and Mr. Eisenberg, but they declined to cooperate with this investigation,” the report stated. “Based on the available evidence, we conclude that it is more likely than not that Mr. Ellis knew of two of the Complainant’s protected communications, and Mr. Eisenberg knew of three of the Complainant’s protected communications.”
In a statement, Vindman’s attorney said the report completely vindicated his client. The Biden administration promoted Vindman to colonel in March 2021.