President Trump Had No Right to
Fire Lt. Col. Vindman
By Joel D. Joseph, Author of Employees' Rights in Plain English
While President Trump probably had the right to fire Ambassador Gordon Sondland, he had no right to take adverse action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman or his twin brother Yevgeny. Two days after being acquitted by the United States Senate, President Trump fired Sondland and the Vindman brothers, retaliating against them for their truthful testimony at the impeachment proceedings.
Not only did President Trump violate the Vindman's civil rights, he committed a criminal offense. The United States Code prohibits retaliation against a witness, and subjects the offender to imprisonment of up to ten years. 18 U.S.C. Section 1513(e).
In addition to criminal conduct, President Trump violated the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, 5 U.S.C. Section 2302(b). A federal official, including the president, violates the Whistleblower Protection Act if he authorizes or takes (or threatens to take) retaliatory personnel action against any employee because of disclosure of information, by testimony or documents, by that employee. There can be no doubt why President Trump took retaliatory action against Lt. Col. Vindman and his twin brother.
Ambassador Sondland Served at the Pleasure of the President
All ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States. Ambassadors are confirmed by the Senate and can be removed by the President for any reason. Sondland was not a career diplomat; he purchased his ambassadorship with a million dollar donation to Trump's inaugural committee.
Vindman Was Subpoenaed to Testify
Lt. Col. Vindman was subpoenaed to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. He complied with the subpoena, even though President Trump wanted him to ignore it. Vindman testified, "When I reported my concerns on July 10th relating to Ambassador Sondland and on July 25th relating to the president, I did so out of a sense of duty. I privately reported my concerns in official channels to the proper authority in the chain of command. My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country. I never thought that I'd be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public about my actions. When I reported my concerns, my only thought was to act properly and to carry out my duty."
In addition to the Whistleblower Protection Act, federal employees have the right to testify before Congress and present information to Congress. 5 U.S.C. Section 7211. This right "may not be interfered with or denied." This law, and the Whistleblower law, provides a sound basis for Lt. Col. Vindman to sue President Trump for retaliation in violation of his civil rights.
Vindman's attorney, David Pressman, said, "Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House where he has dutifully served his country and his President. He does so having spoken publicly once, and only pursuant to a subpoena from the United States Congress." Vindman's twin brother, Yevgeny, was also fired, Pressman said. "Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman, a senior lawyer and ethics official at the National Security Council, and a decorated Iraq war veteran, was escorted off of the grounds of the White House, suddenly and with no explanation, despite over two decades of loyal service to this country," Pressman added.
Now that he's no longer in the White House, Alexander Vindman is planning to work at the Pentagon until he heads to War College in July. His brother will work in the Office of General Counsel of the Army at the Pentagon.
Attorney General Barr will not prosecute President Trump for the president's illegal retaliation against witnesses. If asked, Barr will most likely cite the Office of Legal Counsel's opinion that presidents cannot be indicted. But once President Trump is a former president, he can be prosecuted for retaliating against Lt. Col. Vindman and his brother. President Trump's brash violations of federal law, human dignity and respect for the law, cannot go without punishment.