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Whistleblower takes aim at Trump’s national security advisor

Former national security lawyer Lt. Col. Yevegeny Vindman has filed a whistleblower report claiming he suffered retaliation for flagging ethics issues and accusing White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien of making ‘demeaning’ comments toward female staff.

Vindman, the twin brother of impeachment witness Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, spelled out the accusations in a report he filed with the Acting Pentagon inspector General – claiming he was kept out of key meetings and ultimately forced out of his job after bringing ethics concerns to higher-ups. 

Like his brother, Vindman also raised concerns about President Donald Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with the head of Ukraine where Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his 2020 political rival Joe Biden.

The episode featured prominently in Trump’s impeachment, and both brothers were pushed out of their White House posts in the aftermath in a purge.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee references the Iraq War vet and ethics lawyer’s complaint in a letter to the IG dated Wednesday.

Panel chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York and House Intelligence Chair Rep. Adam Schiff of California raise concerns Vindman was ‘retaliated against for making protected disclosures about potential legal and ethical violations committed by multiple White House officials, including President Trump.’ 

According to their letter quoting his compliant, which was reported by Axios, Vindman was punished for raising issues about the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA) Robert O’Brien and the NSC Chief of Staff Alex Gray.

He asserts that O’Brien and Gray ‘committed several ethics and legal compliance violations, misused government resources, excluded women from meetings, and made sexist and demeaning remarks to female NSC staffers, including inappropriately commenting on women’s looks and “talk[ing] down” to women.’

According to the complaint, Vindman became aware of potential ethics violations and that ‘there were allegations of sexism, violations of standards of ethical conduct for employees and violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act.’

 He says he notified his supervisors but no action was taken. ‘Together they form a disturbing pattern of flagrant disregard for rules,’ he wrote. 

According to the letter, he raised concerns that O’Brien and Gray ‘were misusing NSC staff official time for personal errands including scheduling haircut appointments, retrieving personal luggage and to coordinate personal dinner arrangements.’

He also raised concerns about O’Brien’s Dec. 2019 meeting connecting Gwynne Shotwell, the CEO of SpaceX, with the Defense Department and other agencies to discuss the companies ‘capabilities.’

He thought it might amount to an ‘improper endorsement.’ By that point O’Brien had taken over as national security advisor, having previously served as special presidential envoy for hostage negotiations.

He reported at least three conversations with John Eisenberg, the NSC Legal Advisor and Deputy White House Counsel, about Trump’s Ukraine call.

According to the Maloney-Schiff letter, Vindman found O’Brien and Gray ‘engaged in demeaning and demoralizing sexist behavior against … female NSC professionals.” 

The report raises specific allegations the lawmakers say ‘are unacceptable,’ including that the two men ‘would inappropriately comment on women’s looks, ‘talk down’ to women and exclude women from meetings.” 

He put his concerns in memos for the Defense Department’s general counsel on January 30, 2020 and March 6, 2020.

The lawmakers say the Trump administration appears to have retaliated against Vindman, whose detail to the White House was ended, by excluding him from key meetings and events, removing him from his NSC position, and ‘escorting him and his brother off the White House grounds’ days after Trump’s impeachment trial ended, and filing a derogatory performance review. 

O’Brien is a lawyer who attended law school at the University of California at Berkeley. He previously ran the California office of the Arent Fox law firm, where at one point he served as special master in the the MGA v. Mattel case (“Barbie v. Bratz”).

To make the case for retaliation, the lawmakers point to marked differences in the evaluations Vindman got in July 2019 vs. the one in April 2020. 

In July, his supervisor Eisenberg wrote: ‘Yevgeny (Yev) is the epitome of an Army officer and lawyer. He is a hard-working, disciplined, tough-minded team player who manifests the Army Values.’

But less than a year later, he wrote: ‘Over time, LTC [Y.] Vindman displayed increasingly poor judgment and failed to learn from his mistakes. On multiple occasions, his unprofessional demeanor made NSC staff feel uncomfortable. Despite express guidance from his supervisor, he continued to add himself to meetings with senior NSC staff where he did not add value.’

The White House had no immediate comment.  

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