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Mark Esper said Trump told him to ‘get rid of’ impeachment witness Alexander Vindman


MAY 10, 2022

A composite image of then-President Donald Trump (left) and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who is now retired. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images; Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty

  • Trump’s former Pentagon chief detailed a significant effort to punish an impeachment witness.
  • Mark Esper said the Trump White House went to great lengths to punish Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
  • “He’s a Never Trumper. We need to get rid of him,” Esper said Trump told him of Vindman.

President Donald Trump and his White House engaged in a scorched-earth campaign to purge Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from the US military after Vindman became a key witness during Trump’s first impeachment, Trump’s former Pentagon chief said in a new book.

“He lied about my great call,” Trump told Defense Secretary Mark Esper during a White House meeting on April 21, 2020, Esper wrote in his new book, “A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times.”

Esper went on to say that Trump added: Vindman “made it all up. He’s a Never Trumper. We need to get rid of him.”

Esper’s book includes new allegations of the White House effort to derail Vindman’s career and block his Pentagon-endorsed promotion to colonel, with Trump’s chief of staff at one point shouting at Esper that the Army combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient would “never get promoted.”

Vindman responded to an early excerpt by tweeting a photo of an angry Trump.

At the time, Vindman was a National Security Council staffer detailed to the White House. His shock to and abhorrence of Trump’s July 25, 2019, call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a major point in what became the first impeachment of the president after Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, who was running for president at the time, and his family. It was Vindman who insisted that the White House record of the call should mention Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Biden’s son Hunter had served.

Trump, who was later acquitted by the GOP-controlled Senate, has never budged from his defense that it was a “perfect phone call,” and that his request for Zelenskyy “to do us a favor” in return for military aid that Trump ordered withheld was in no way evidence of a quid pro quo.

Vindman retired from the military after Trump’s acquittal in the face of a massive pressure campaign. While some of these details were previously known, Esper meticulously documented alleged meetings and phone calls with Trump and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, that underlined the effort to punish Vindman. Both Vindman and his brother Yevgeny were fired from the National Security Council days after Trump’s acquittal.

Yevgeny wrote on Twitter that Esper’s lack of support allowed their “actions to be politicized.” He said he would join his brother in retirement later this summer.

Esper wrote that the White House’s lust for revenge wasn’t satiated with the Vindmans being ousted from the White House. Meadows, Esper said, was engaged in an effort to deny Vindman a proposed promotion, strongly implying that the White House would find more witnesses to support a misconduct complaint filed against Vindman.

Esper said he took particular issue with Meadows’ handling of the complaint. Esper wrote that it became evident early on “that the NSC had no real evidence or witnesses to offer.” Esper said this was later confirmed by an Army inspector general’s investigation.

But Meadows, Esper wrote, wasn’t done yet. Neither side could drag out the issue forever as the Pentagon had to submit Vindman and other prospective promotions to the Senate for approval. In July 2020, the showdown Esper said he was expecting all along over Vindman’s future finally came to a head.

“I told Meadows, ‘Yes, the Army was done,'” Esper wrote of a call that took place on July 6, 2020. He added that Meadows shouted back: “Then why didn’t you call me, Secretary? I would have had them get you something.”

Meadows then asked for “another week or so” in what Esper described as an effort “to drum up more witnesses” for the complaint. Esper said he again refused to drag out the process any longer.

“‘If you don’t want him on the list, then you should remove him, but I don’t support it. It would be the wrong thing to do,'” I yelled into the phone. Meadows shouted back, ‘He’ll never get promoted!'” Esper wrote.

Esper wrote that Meadows asked for and received a White House meeting the following day to discuss the situation. Flanked by Pentagon lawyers, Esper laid out the case that there was no credible evidence to deny Vindman a promotion. Esper said Meadows finally relented in part because a White House lawyer told him that he could be accused of tampering with the investigation if he pressed too hard.

Spokespersons for Meadows and Vindman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump criticized Esper ahead of the book’s publication, calling his former Pentagon chief “Yesper” and arguing that he was so ineffective that Trump himself had to run the US military.

Courtesy/Source: Business Insider