Lt. Col. Vindman's firing was no way to treat a war hero

The Purple Heart medal is awarded to U.S. service members who have been wounded as a result of enemy action and posthumously presented to their next of kin if they were killed in battle. More than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been awarded since the award was created in 1782.  Among the recipients were President John F. Kennedy and the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal Ernst calls for public presidential campaign funds to go to masks, protective equipment President Trump is right — Now's the time for 'all hands on deck' MORE (R-Ariz.).    

In October 2004, infantry officer Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanAmerica's diplomats deserve our respect White House withdraws nomination for Pentagon budget chief who questioned Ukraine aid hold Juan Williams: Will the GOP ever curb Trump? MORE was leading a reconnaissance patrol near Falluja, Iraq. He was wounded when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Vindman was awarded the Purple Heart and served out his deployment. 

Last Friday now-Lt. Col. Vindman, a highly decorated career officer serving on the National Security Council, became the victim of a presidential revenge campaign. His offense was testifying pursuant to a subpoena in the House Intelligence Committee’s Ukraine impeachment inquiry. 

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Vindman’s testimony about Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Top Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden spar over coronavirus response MORE and his son was consistent with the documentary evidence and the testimony of other key witnesses. Republicans tried to impugn Vindman’s credibility by claiming that his superiors had questioned his judgment and credibility. But that blew up in their face when Vindman read from his fitness report, which stated that “Alex is a top 1 percent military officer . . . He is brilliant, unflappable, and exercises excellent judgment.”

After Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, the White House decided that it was payback time for anyone who opposed him in the impeachment inquiry. Or, as White House press secretary Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamUK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus White House press secretary to return to work after negative virus test Trump signs executive order to prevent price gouging, hoarding of medical supplies MORE less than subtly put it, “maybe people should pay for that.” Lt. Col. Vindman was already scheduled to rotate out of the NSC this summer, which could have been accelerated without much ado if the objective was only to get him out of the White House.   

That, however, was not the payback Trump and his aides had in mind. Vindman was ostentatiously fired from his NSC job and escorted from the premises as though he had been caught stealing office supplies. Trump even took revenge on Alexander Vindman’s family by firing his twin brother Yevgeny, an army officer who also works at the NSC but was not involved in the Ukraine matter. Trump then publicly blasted Lt. Col. Vindman with the discredited claim that he had been “insubordinate” and had poor judgment. Vindman was re-assigned to the Defense Department, but his career may be permanently damaged.

It’s evident that Trump resented Vindman’s testimony, wanted revenge, and above all, sought to make an example of Vindman to deter anyone else in his administration from ever testifying against him. We expect this kind of behavior from a mob boss, not a commander-in-chief.

Vindman’s treatment underscores this president’s willingness to impugn the sacrifice of American soldiers when he thinks it is to his political advantage. In 2016 Trump demeaned his political nemesis John McCain – and every other prisoner of war in American history – by saying  that, despite McCain’s courageous conduct as a North Vietnamese prisoner during the Vietnam War, he wasn’t a war hero. “I like people that weren't captured,” Trump said.   

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After the January 8 Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi base with U.S. troops, Trump announced that no Americans had been harmed. When it emerged that dozens of servicemen had suffered traumatic brain injuries, Trump, rather than admit error, dismissed their injuries as only “headaches.” The Veterans of Foreign Wars demanded a public apology from Trump, but there was none.

No dedicated public servant should be treated like Lt. Col. Vindman. But the fact that he was a 20-year veteran, a highly decorated officer and a Purple Heart recipient, especially, entitled him to a dignified and respectful departure from the White House. And that he did not get. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.