Schumer calls on inspectors general to investigate retaliation against whistleblowers

By Melissa Quinn

/ CBS News

Trump fires impeachment witnesses

Washington — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, is calling on internal watchdogs from across the federal government to investigate "any and all instances of retaliation" against federal whistleblowers who have reported alleged misconduct by President Trump.

Schumer's request to the nation's 74 inspectors general, who serve as the internal watchdogs of federal agencies, follows the removal of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from his job with the National Security Council. Vindman testified during the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump and participated in the July 25 phone call between the president and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which the president urged Zelensky to investigate his Democratic political rival.

"Our founders, having seen and studied societies governed by the iron fist of tyrants and the claimed divine right of kings, believed that truth was fundamental to the survival of our republic," Schumer wrote in a letter sent Monday to Defense Department Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine and the 73 other inspectors general. "Without the courage of whistleblowers and the role of inspectors general, the American people may never have known how the president abused his power in the Ukraine scandal."

Trending News

  • Man charged with ramming tent where GOP was registering voters
  • Watch live: Trump holds rally in New Hampshire on eve of primary
  • Schumer calls on 74 inspectors general to protect whistleblowers
  • National debt tops $21 trillion for first time ever
  • Stacey Abrams' voting rights group brings in big bucks

The New York Democrat said it is "incumbent" on inspectors general that whistleblowers like Vindman "are protected for doing what we hope and expect those who serve our country will do when called: tell the truth."

In addition to requesting inspectors general investigate possible retaliation against "anyone who has made, or in the future makes, protected disclosures of presidential misconduct," Schumer also called for them to disclose when employees were last told of their legal rights to report misconduct anonymously and without retribution.

Vindman and his twin brother, Yevgeny, a lawyer with the National Security Council, were escorted from the White House on Friday, two days after the Senate acquitted Mr. Trump on impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Both were reassigned to the Pentagon.

Vindman is sworn in to testify at House Intelligence Committee hearing on Trump impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill in Washington
Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump on Capitol Hill on November 19, 2019. JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who also testified in the impeachment probe, was also ousted from his post.

Schumer called Vindman's dismissal, as well as efforts to identify the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about Mr. Trump's conduct with Ukraine sparked the impeachment inquiry, "shameful" and "illegal."

"These attacks are part of a dangerous, growing pattern of retaliation against those who report wrongdoing only to find themselves targeted by the president and subject to his wrath and vindictiveness," Schumer wrote.

The White House has claimed that Vindman's position with the National Security Council was temporary and his removal was part of an effort to trim down staff.

But Mr. Trump has not held back in criticizing Vindman, tweeting Saturday he was "very insubordinate" and received a "horrendous report by his superior."

Vindman's attorney said the president's tweets "conflict with the clear personnel record and the entirety of the impeachment record of which the president is well aware."

During his public testimony in November, Vindman said he told superiors of his concerns about Mr, Trump's call with Zelensky "out of a sense of duty." He also rejected accusations of being a "never Trumper," telling lawmakers he is "never partisan."

Vindman said the president's request during the phone conversation for Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden was "inappropriate" and "improper."

First published on February 10, 2020 / 9:59 AM

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.