Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Monday called on the nation’s 74 federal inspectors general (IGs) to protect whistleblowers from retaliation as President Donald Trump began purging Obama-era holdovers and other officials from his National Security Council (NSC).
IGs are internal government watchdogs who are expected to operate independently of political leadership in government.
Schumer’s call on Monday came in the wake of Trump’s decision last Friday to remove and reassign Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the NSC who testified in the House Democrats’ partisan impeachment probe.
Last Friday, Trump also fired the NSC staffer’s twin brother — Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman — who served as the a senior lawyer and ethics official for the NSC.
In a statement issued Monday, Senate Democrats noted that Schumer, following Trump’s dismissal of the Vindman twins from the the NSC, “sent letters to the Department of Defense Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine and all other federal inspectors general calling on each to take immediate steps to ensure all federal employees who blow the whistle on presidential misconduct are protected from retaliation.”
Schumer wrote in the letter sent to Department of Defense (DOD) IG Glenn Fine on Monday:
Not only is retaliation LTC [Alex] Vindman, the anonymous whistleblower [who triggered the impeachment proceedings, and others like them shameful, it is also illegal. … All federal employees have the legal right to make protected disclosures to Congress and Inspectors General anonymously and free from reprisals.
Schumer went on to claim that the Trump administration is challenging whistleblower rights “like never before.” Some news reports have accused the Obama administration of waging an unprecedented war on whistleblowers.
The Senate majority leader urged the IGs “to investigate any and all instances of retaliation against whistleblowers who make protected disclosures regarding presidential misconduct.”
On Monday, the same day that Schumer sent out the letters, a Washington Examiner editorial revealed that Trump is doubling down on White House staff dismissals. The removals are much bigger than just the Vindman twins, the Examiner noted, adding:
President Trump is making good on his promises to “drain the swamp” and cut Obama-era holdovers from his staffs, especially the critical and recently controversial National Security Council.
Officials confirmed that Trump and national security adviser Robert O’Brien have cut 70 positions inherited from former President Barack Obama, who had fattened the staff to 200.
Many were loaners from other agencies and have been sent back. Others left government work.
In the letter the DOD IG, Schumer accused Trump of “viciously” attacking Alex Vindman after the lieutenant colonel “bravely” stepped forward to “tell the truth” during the Democrat-controlled House’s recent impeachment inquiry.
According to the Associated Press (AP), Trump also pink-slipped his European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland, last Friday. Sondland also testified in the Democrat’s impeachment proceedings.
Sondland and Vindman were two of the 17 people from inside and outside the Trump administration who testified in the impeachment proceedings.
The White House explicitly urged its staffers not to testify in the Democrats’ impeachment probe.
In December, the House Democrats impeached Trump along partisan lines with no Republican support, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Three Democrats joined Republicans in voting against impeachment, with one of them splitting his vote between the two articles of impeachment levied against the President.
The GOP-controlled Senate acquitted the President last week with no Democrats joining Republicans in exonerating Trump. This time around, a Republican — Sent. Mitt Romney from Utah — joined Democrats in voting to convict President Trump.
There are whistleblower laws in place to protect federal employees who report wrongdoing within the government and assist Congress with its oversight role.
Some news outlets have asserted that the so-called “whistleblower” who triggered the impeachment against Trump is a partisan CIA officer. The leaker likely broke the law by allegedly sharing his complaint with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s (R-CA) office before the intelligence community’s IG.
Some Republicans and the White House have defended the president’s dismissals.