House Democrats seek probe of Vindman firings amid new allegations
By KAROUN DEMIRJIAN | The Washington Post | Published: August 26, 2020
WASHINGTON — House Democrats are reviving a demand that the Defense Department’s inspector general investigate the firings of Lt. Cols. Alexander and Yevgeny Vindman as retaliation for their roles in President Donald Trump’s impeachment, citing new allegations that one of the brothers was probing ethics and legal charges against national security adviser Robert O’Brien at the time of his firing.
In a Wednesday letter to acting Defense Department inspector general Sean O’Donnell, the Democratic chairmen of the House Oversight, Intelligence and Armed Services committees wrote that Yevgeny Vindman was looking into whether O’Brien and his chief of staff at the National Security Council, Alex Gray, “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.”
A spokesman for the National Security Council (NSC) did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman at the Defense Department inspector general’s office confirmed that it has received a copy of the House Democrats’ letter and is reviewing it.
The Vindman brothers rose to prominence after Alexander Vindman became a witness in Trump’s impeachment investigation. Vindman, formerly a Ukraine analyst at the NSC, was one of several individuals listening in on the July 25, 2019, phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that became the centerpiece of the allegations against the president. He reported his concerns about Trump’s comments during the call to the NSC’s top lawyer, John Eisenberg.
Yevgeny Vindman, who shared his brother’s concerns, was working as an ethics lawyer at the NSC before both were ousted from their jobs on the same day in February. He had begun investigating the separate complaints against O’Brien in fall 2019 and notified his superiors of them, but “no action was taken,” he wrote in a memorandum to the Defense Department’s Office of the General Counsel a month after his ouster. He asked the office to look into the matter.
A spokesman for the Defense Department did not reply immediately to a request for comment.
In addition to complaints about sexism, the House Democrats’ letter details new concerns that Vindman raised to superiors about government-funded trips that O’Brien and his wife took to Utah and California. On one of the trips, to Brigham Young University, O’Brien gave a speech before an Air Force ROTC unit in which his daughter was a member. According to the Democrats’ letter, “Vindman was subsequently told that future ethics reviews involving Mr. O’Brien’s engagements with private entities would be removed from his portfolio and instead vetted through the White House Counsel’s Office.”
In Vindman’s complaint, according to the letter, he also raised concerns that O’Brien and Gray were “misusing NSC staff official time for personal errands,” such as scheduling haircuts and dinners, and stated that O’Brien “yelled” at him in the fall of 2019 when he told him about the limits to the gifts he could accept.
He also raised concerns that O’Brien’s December offer to facilitate a government meeting for the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, and a January meeting with a member of the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors might be seen as preferential treatment.
“I remain gravely concerned that the climate in the NSC is toxic and that leadership does not have regard for rules and standards,” Vindman wrote to the Defense Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in March 2020. He warned that “if this situation persists, personnel will depart and national security will be harmed.”
House Democrats initially asked the Defense Department’s inspector general to look into the Vindmans’ firings in July.