Fourth in an occasional series on White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnanyto prove the impossibility of speaking for President Trump.

News of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s impending retirement from the U.S. Army broke this week, along with its dark rationale: A man who’d served with distinction for more than two decades was leaving because of a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” stemming from President Trump over Vindman’s role in the impeachment inquiry that wrapped up earlier this year. “The President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honoring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers,” said Vindman’s lawyer, David Pressman, in a statement.

It’s all no big deal, according to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. In her words, Vindman is a “former junior employee” in the White House.

This latest development follows a well-known sequence: Vindman, the National Security Council’s expert on Ukraine, was subpoenaed last year to testify about the famous “perfect” phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — the one in which Trump pressured the new head of state to investigate Joe Biden. In his testimony, Vindman said, “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications to the U.S. Government’s support of Ukraine.” Vindman later carried his concerns to National Security Council Chief Counsel John Eisenberg.

Trump fired Vindman from his NSC post and took to Twitter to smear him:

Asked whether the White House had any comment on Vindman’s retirement from the Army, McEnany said, “With Col. Vindman, you know, I’m not going to focus or comment on a former junior employee. I know the White House has not spoken to him since he left, and I would refer you for further [sic] to the Army.”

“Former junior employee,” you say?

Well, let’s just rummage through the record to see what this “junior employee” did. Per Vindman’s own testimony — helpfully abridged by Lawfare — here are some of his actions in the Ukraine saga. He:

  • Dealt with inquiries from Ukrainian officials about how to deal with the campaign of Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was attempting to cast a “narrative” about Democratic collusion with Ukraine.
  • Received instructions in May 2019 from then-national security adviser John Bolton to attend Zelensky’s inaugural.
  • Attended a July 10 meeting among U.S. and Ukrainian officials at which the Trump quid pro quo was mentioned, before Bolton stopped the meeting.
  • Warned Zelensky himself not to meddle in U.S. domestic politics. (Telling foreign heads of state to back off, of course, is a standard part of junior-level staffer’s portfolio.)
  • Listened to that Trump-Zelensky call last July from the Situation Room — essentially a lounge for junior types.
  • Drafted talking points for Trump ahead of that critical call.
  • Authored a memo, approved by Bolton, recommending that Trump release that tranche of $400 million in security aid to Ukraine.

Elizabeth D. Sherwood-Randall, who served in the Obama White House as a special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council, says she would not “diminish” Vindman’s job to “junior” level. As a director for European affairs, Vindman held a position equivalent to a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of State or Defense. “The individuals who are selected are entrusted with briefing the president, preparing written materials for the president, leading interagency deliberations on Administration policies and overseeing implementation of Administration policies, and interacting with relevant foreign counterparts,” notes Sherwood-Randall in an email to the Erik Wemple Blog. “Notably, DOD (usually via the Services) typically offers outstanding, substantively qualified representatives to work on the NSC staff when there are openings.”

That appears to be what happened in Vindman’s case: His substantive qualifications, as it turned out, put him at odds with a crooked president, not to mention a shaming machine that runs at all hours.

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