By Jeff Mason and Karen Freifeld
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Friday removed Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from his position as the White House’s top Ukraine expert after he provided damaging testimony about President Donald Trump during the impeachment process, Vindman’s lawyer said.
Vindman was escorted out of the White House where he had worked on the National Security Council (NSC), lawyer David Pressman said in a statement, adding that the move was retribution for Vindman’s testimony.
“There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House. LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth,” Pressman said.
Vindman testified to the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry in November that Trump made an improper demand of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July phone call that became the centerpiece of the probe of the Republican president.
Vindman told a Democratic-run committee “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing” in the phone call. Trump asked Zelenskiy to launch investigations into both Democratic rival Joe Biden and a widely debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
During that appearance, Vindman downplayed concerns that he would suffer payback for speaking out. “I will be fine for telling the truth,” he said.
Michael Volkov, who represented Alexander Vindman when he testified in the impeachment inquiry, said Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, was escorted off the White House grounds at the same time.
Yevgeny Vindman, also an Army lieutenant colonel, worked for the NSC as a lawyer.
An Army spokesperson said both brothers had been reassigned to the Army, but declined to provide further information “out of respect for their privacy.”
A lawyer for Yevgeny Vindman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the security council declined to comment.
Representative Eliot Engel, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision to remove Alexander Vindman was “shameful.”
“This president believes the only loyalty that matters is loyalty to him personally,” Engel said in a written statement.
Trump emerged victorious from his trial this week with a vote in the Senate, controlled by fellow Republicans who rejected abuse of power and obstruction of justice charges.
Asked earlier on Friday about media reports that he might remove Vindman, Trump told reporters: “I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?…They’re going to be making that decision.”
A source familiar with the situation told Reuters that Vindman – a Ukraine-born U.S. citizen and decorated Iraq war combat veteran – would be reassigned to the Defense Department.
Vindman’s two-year stint at the White House was due to end in July.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that the Pentagon protects all service members from retribution.
Trump, who became only the third U.S. president to be impeached, has said he is still bitter as he turns his attention to seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Another senior white House aide who testified over impeachment, Jennifer Williams (NYSE:), left this week for a post at the U.S. military’s Central Command, according to Bloomberg News.
Trump has cast both Vindman and Williams as “Never Trumpers” who oppose him.
Trump denied reports that he was weighing a permanent chief of staff to replace acting aide Mick Mulvaney, who was a central figure in the impeachment inquiry.
“That was a false report. I have a great relationship with Mick,” Trump said.
Democrats say Trump pushed for the Ukraine investigations to undermine Biden, a candidate to win the Democratic nomination for November’s election. Trump says he wanted to help Ukraine fight corruption.
Biden’s presidential campaign suffered a serious setback when he came in fourth place at the Democrats’ first state nominating contest in Iowa this week.
Senate Republicans have been investigating Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father, Joe, was U.S. vice president.
Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson have asked for the younger Biden’s travel records while under official Secret Service protection, among other official records. Democratic lawmakers say the Treasury Department has provided Congress with some financial records involving Hunter Biden.
Trump had urged Ukraine to investigate both Bidens, though there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either one.