Pentagon chief says Vindman should not fear Army retaliation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that an Army officer has no reason to fear retribution for testifying before Congress in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Esper was asked about potential retribution for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman during a trip to New York City. The defense secretary said the Pentagon "has protections for whistleblowers" who report waste, fraud or abuse.

He said Vindman or any other whistleblower "shouldn't have any fear of retaliation," according to a transcript of the exchange released by online publication Defense One.

Vindman is the Ukraine specialist at the White House's National Security Council who was on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy. Vindman testified about concerns that Trump was delaying military aid to the Eastern European country while pressing the country to investigate his political rivals.

That phone call, and Trump's request for a "favor" from Ukraine are the basis of the impeachment inquiry.

According to the Defense One transcript, Esper was asked what he would tell service members who might wonder if Vindman's career is in jeopardy and whether their own careers would be at risk if they blew the whistle on waste, fraud or abuse.

Esper responded by saying the Pentagon "has protections for whistleblowers -- they're guaranteed in law. And he shouldn't have any fear of retaliation. That's DoD's position," referring to the Department of Defense.