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Interview Prompts Erroneous Claim of Vindman Firing


Quick Take

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert working in the White House, was not fired by President Donald Trump — as posts circulating online continue to perpetuate. The confusion was born out of a recent television interview with Trump’s national security adviser.


Full Story 

A Nov. 10 television interview with President Donald Trump’s national security adviser prompted confusion about whether Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — a key witness in the impeachment inquiry into Trump — had been removed from his role at the White House.

But the White House and Vindman’s attorney soon after corrected the record and made clear that Vindman is still in his position on the National Security Council.

Content circulating on social media, however, has continued to perpetuate the erroneous claim that Trump “fired” Vindman over Veterans Day weekend in retaliation for his testimony.

A meme, which lifted the text from a tweet, claims “Trump has fired Lt Col Vindman … an abuse of power and another impeachable offense. Trump retaliated against an American patriot, on Veteran’s Day weekend. Disgusting and pathetic.”

Vindman, a Ukraine expert detailed to the White House’s National Security Council, testified behind closed doors before the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry into Trump on Oct. 29. Vindman was among those assigned to listen in on Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call, which is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Trump suggested Ukraine conduct certain investigations, including one into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

In his prepared opening statement, Vindman told the House committees that he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”

“I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained,” the statement continued. “This would all undermine U.S. national security.”

In a Nov. 10 interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” anchor Margaret Brennan asked National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien if Vindman would continue in his position after his testimony.

Brennan, Nov. 10: Lt. Col. Vindman, who has testified under oath, is serving on the National Security Council currently. Will he continue to work for you despite testifying against the president?

O’Brien: Well — well look, one of the things that I’ve talked about is that we’re streamlining the National Security Council. It got bloated to like 236 people from — up from 100 in the Bush administration under President Obama. We’re streamlining the National Security Council. There are people that are detailed from different departments and agencies. My understanding is he’s, is that Col. Vindman is detailed from the Department of Defense. So everyone who’s detailed at the NSC, people are going to start going back to their own departments and we’ll bring in new folks. But we’re going to get that number down to around 100 people. That’s what it was under Condoleezza Rice. She came and met with me. I met with a number of my successors.

Brennan: Right.

O’Brien: We don’t need to recreate the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security over at the White House. We’ve got great diplomats and soldiers and folks that can — that do that work for us in the departments.

Brennan then attempted to solicit a more clear response.

Brennan: Just to button that up, though. You’re saying Lt. Col. Vindman is scheduled to rotate out. You are not suggesting in any way that there will be retaliation against him?

O’Brien: I never retaliated against anyone. So the …

Brennan: But his time is coming to an end?

O’Brien: There will be a point for everybody who’s detailed there …

Brennan: Okay.

O’Brien: … that their time, that their detail will come to an end. They’ll go back to their agency. And what we want them to do is take the experience and skills they learned at the White House, take it back to their departments and agencies and do an even better job there. And so we’re grateful that we can have these detailees come in, and they’ll come spend the year — a year or, you know, maybe a little bit more at the White House and then they’ll go back to their agency. And they’ll do a better job at their agency.

This exchange caused some to believe that Vindman was indeed being removed from the National Security Council. The “Face the Nation” Twitter account posted a tweet about the interview that began, “VINDMAN OUT AT NSC.”

But Vindman’s attorney, Michael Volkov, later provided a statement to CBS, after the O’Brien interview, that reads: “LTC Vindman is still detailed to the National Security Council. His detail ends July 2020. We are not aware of any change in his status. Obviously any retaliatory action against LTC Vindman on a day when we honor our military heroes would be reprehensible.”

Volkov, in an email to FactCheck.org on Nov. 14, said that his statement to CBS still stood, and that Vindman will enter the U.S. Army War College after his detail at the NSC ends in mid-2020.

“He continues to work at the NSC each day,” Volkov told us. “We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Some of the memes circulating about the supposed firing credit text to Scott Dworkin — a Democrat who opposes Trump and has a large Twitter following. Dworkin did tweet the text included in the meme, which claims that “Trump has fired Lt Col Vindman” and calls it “disgusting,” but he also posted follow-up tweets with the correct information.

Dworkin wrote in a subsequent tweet: “Now it’s being reported Vindman isn’t being removed and is set to serve out his term.” He later shared a Twitter thread from the editor of Talking Points Memo, a left-leaning website, that addressed some of the confusion.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham also told the Washington Examiner after the O’Brien interview that Vindman “is still there.”

Vindman is expected to testify again in the impeachment inquiry, this time at a public hearing on Nov. 19.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Chaitlin, Daniel. “‘Still there’: White House denies Vindman fired in retribution for Ukraine testimony.” Washington Examiner. 10 Nov 2019.

Official who testified against Trump “still detailed” to National Security Council.” CBS News. 11 Nov 2019. 

Transcript: Robert O’Brien on “Face the Nation,” November 10, 2019.” CBS News. 10 Nov 2019.

Volkov, Michael. Attorney. Email to FactCheck.org. 14 Nov 2019.