USA

Duckworth threatens to block military nominees unless impeachment witness Vindman gets promotion

Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Thursday announced she'll hold up the confirmation of more than 1,000 military promotions until Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirms that the promotion of impeachment witness Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman will move forward.

Duckworth, a retired Army officer who lost both legs because of wounds sustained in the Iraq War, said she intends to block 1,123 promotions until Esper "confirms in writing that he did not, or will not, block the expected and deserved promotion" of Vindman to colonel.

The move by the Illinois Democrat raises the stakes amid reports that the White House could nix Vindman's promotion from a list of officers set to move up the ranks.

"Our military is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy," Duckworth said. "It is simply unprecedented and wrong for any Commander in Chief to meddle in routine military matters at all, whether or not he has a personal vendetta against a Soldier who did his patriotic duty and told the truth — a Soldier who has been recommended for promotion by his superiors because of his performance. I won’t just sit by and let it happen, and neither should any of my colleagues.

"This goes far beyond any single military officer, it is about protecting a merit-based system from political corruption and unlawful retaliation," she added.

A spokesperson for Esper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Duckworth said her blockade on senior nominees would exempt Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who Trump nominated to help lead the administration's effort to develop and produce a coronavirus vaccine.

Vindman, who served on the National Security Council staff, listened to President Donald Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last July and later testified in the open before the House impeachment inquiry.

Trump has publicly attacked Vindman, and the officer was ousted from his job at the NSC after the Senate acquitted Trump of charges that he abused his power by withholding security assistance to Ukraine for his political gain.

In the wake of his acquittal, Trump and his allies have also ousted other members of the administration viewed as disloyal.

The White House pulled the nomination of Elaine McCusker to be Pentagon comptroller this year. McCusker did not testify in the House probe, but was revealed in emails to have questioned the legality of the White House budget office's freeze on Ukraine funding. She has since resigned as the acting Pentagon budget chief.

In addition, Gordon Sondland, who testified in the impeachment probe, was recalled from his post as ambassador to the European Union.

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