Their testimony during the impeachment hearings does not change this calculus. Employees who file complaints pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Act are protected from retaliatory personnel actions. This is why the identity of the whistleblower, whose letter helped initiate the entire imbroglio, has not been disclosed and why he or she has not been punished. Congress could extend whistleblower protection to people whose testimony is compelled pursuant to a congressional investigation, but it has not. Until it does, Trump is free to act as he wishes.
The idea that Trump’s acts could chill other White House officials from coming forward to spill the beans on their boss is laughable. People don’t just end up working in the White House. They are highly ambitious, career-focused men and women who have weighed the pros and cons of working for any particular person. I know many highly qualified conservatives who chose not to work in the Trump administration because even their ambition could not impel them to work for a man whom they distrusted or despised. People who made different choices knew what they were doing when they signed up and are highly unlikely to want to risk their careers anyway. Vindman’s reassignment simply tells them what they already knew.
This mix of ambition and loyalty is a feature of all presidential staffs. President Bill Clinton was carrying on a sexual liaison with his intern, Monica Lewinsky, for years before the news finally leaked out. No one expected his staff to suddenly rush forward to tell Congress about what they suspected or knew. And no one would have been surprised if Clinton had fired such a person after he was acquitted. Indeed, he fired the person whose secret tapes with Lewinsky revealed the affair’s existence, Linda Tripp, on his administration’s final day.
This does not mean that Trump should do whatever he likes regarding the Vindman brothers. They have simply been reassigned; neither has been decommissioned from the Army. Both are lieutenant colonels, and both should be due for consideration to full colonel within the next year or two. Their promotions should be considered on their full record, and neither Trump nor any of his staff should attempt to drive the pair out of the military. It’s one thing to reorder one’s personnel; it’s another to destroy a person’s livelihood.
Americans already know Trump demands personal loyalty and holds grudges. For many, this is one reason they detest him. For others, it’s something they tolerate or like. This specific act will be long forgotten by November. The larger question of whether a man of Trump’s character should be president has been the crux of our political wars for years and won’t be resolved anytime soon.