WASHINGTON – Top House Democrats called Wednesday for an investigation into retaliation against the Vindman brothers, the Army officers ensnared in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, for raising concerns about the "toxic" climate created by senior White House national security officials who harassed women in the office and abused travel privileges.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was joined by chairmen of other national security oversight committees in seeking a probe by the Pentagon Inspector General into White House retaliation against retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother Yevgeny Vindman. Alexander Vindman became a key witness in the impeachment hearing, testifying that he raised concerns about Trump pressuring the president of Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden.
On Wednesday, the lawmakers released details of Yevgeny Vindman's complaints to Pentagon officials about top White House staffers, including Robert O'Brien, Trump's now National Security Adviser. He alleged that last year O'Brien, then in a different position, and National Security Council Chief of Staff Alex Gray, had excluded women from meetings, made sexist and demeaning remarks to women staffers, including inappropriate comments on their looks and “talk[ing] down” to them.
"Based on this new information, it is all the more urgent that the (Department of Defense Inspector General) immediately investigate whether adverse personnel actions taken against LTC Alexander Vindman and LTC Y. Vindman were carried out in retaliation for their protected disclosures, and that your investigation include a close examination of actions taken by White House officials," Smith and the other chairmen wrote to acting Pentagon Inspector General Sean O'Donnell.
Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for O'Donnell, said the inspector general had received the letter and is reviewing it. There was no immediate response from the NSC.
Alexander Vindman retired Aug. 1 despite having been just promoted to the rank of colonel. He cited bullying and intimidation from the White House for leaving the Army. Yevgeny Vindman is still an Army lawyer.
The lawmakers wrote on Wednesday that Yevgeny Vindman, who had been serving as an ethics and legal adviser, appeared to have suffered retaliation for raising concerns about Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and for reporting multiple ethics and legal allegations against then-assistant to the President for National Security Affairs O’Brien and Gray.
Among the abuses alleged by Yevgeny Vindman:
• O'Brien used government-funded travel to Utah and California with his wife for a speaking engagement to ROTC cadets at Brigham Young University where his daughter is a cadet. Vindman had warned that the trip appeared improper and a personal conflict of interest. After complaining, Vindman was told he would no longer be charged with vetting O'Brien's engagements with private entities.
• O’Brien “became agitated and angry” in September 2019 when Vindman and his colleagues advised O'Brien about conflicts of interest, including who could buy him lunch or dinner. O"Brien "yelled" at Vindman because he disagreed with the rules.
• O'Brien and Gray misused official time for personal errands including scheduling haircut appointments, retrieving personal luggage and to coordinate personal dinner arrangements.
• O'Brien used his position to give preferential White House access to friends.
Vindman wrote to the Pentagon general counsel in March to register his concerns, the lawmakers said.
"I notified my supervisors on the NSC staff and White House Counsel’s Office about each of these concerns," Vindman wrote. "To my knowledge no action was taken. Consequently, my professional obligations persist. While any of these infractions are serious, together they form a disturbing pattern of flagrant disregard for rules. I fear that if this situation persists, personnel will depart and national security will be harmed. I request you inquire into the facts and allegations herein and take appropriate action."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dems want retaliation probe after Vindman brothers raised Trump issues