Ahead Of Public Testimony Of Lt. Col. Vindman, Schumer Calls On Pentagon To Protect Military Whistleblowers From Reprisals, And Notify Personnel Of Legal Rights To Make Disclosures To Congress

November 18, 2019

In New Letter To Secretary Of Defense Mark Esper, Leader Schumer Requests That The Defense Department Formally Notify All Civilian And Military Personnel Of Their Legal Rights To Make Protected Disclosures To Congress—Free From Retaliation

After Continued Attacks, Leader Schumer Says DOD Officials Must Do More To Protect Whistleblowers Like Lt. Col. Vindman And Cooper, Live Up To Past Commitment To Transparency

Leader Schumer To Secretary Esper: They Are Patriots Standing Up For The Constitution They Swore An Oath To Defend

Washington, D.C. – Ahead of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper’s public hearings before Congress this week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, calling on the Pentagon formally notify all civilian and military personnel of their legal rights to make protected disclosures to Congress free from retaliation. Leader Schumer’s call comes amid continued attacks against Lt. Col. Vindman and other whistleblowers, including by the President during live testimony last week by former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

In the letter, Leader Schumer says the Defense Department must do more to protect whistleblowers after threats to their personal safety and the risks of professional reprisals—particularly in light of the Department’s recent correspondence at odds with past commitments made to cooperate with congressional requests for witnesses and documents.

Leader Schumer requested that the Defense Department brief him on actions to ensure Lt. Col. Vindman, Ms. Cooper, and other whistleblowers like them are afforded appropriate protections, and that the Pentagon produce to Congress all documents collected in response to General Counsel Paul Ney’s October 3rd memorandum regarding the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Leader Schumer’s letter to Secretary Esper can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Esper:

This week, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper are scheduled to testify publicly before Congress as part of an inquiry into the President’s efforts to press Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 elections by withholding security assistance to help counter Russian aggression.

Since their identities were revealed, LTC Vindman and Ms. Cooper have been vilified and attacked by individuals in the media and elsewhere. Some have even gone so far as to call LTC Vindman, a recipient of the Purple Heart after being wounded while serving in Iraq, a spy and question his loyalty to the United States. 

Bravely, in the face of these shameful attacks, these individuals have still chosen to come forward and tell the truth despite the risk of professional reprisals and threats to their personal safety. I fear, however, these attacks will only increase after their participation in these public hearings.

Recently, in response to questions from the media, you stated that LTC Vindman should not fear retaliation and that the Pentagon has protections for whistleblowers. While I welcome your statement, I believe the Department of Defense must do more to formally ensure that all Department military and civilian personnel understand that they may make protected disclosures to Congress free from retaliation. I also remained concerned about the chilling effect of the Department’s recent correspondence that appeared to discourage employees from cooperating with Congress— which is at odds with commitments you and other senior officials made before the Senate Armed Services Committee to provide documents and witnesses when requested.

Accordingly, I request that you formally notify all civilian and military personnel of their legal rights to make protected disclosures to Congress. I also request that you brief me on what actions are being taken to ensure that LTC Vindman, Ms. Cooper, and other whistleblowers like them are afforded appropriate protections—both from workplace reprisals and for their personal safety and that of their families.

In addition, I request that the Department immediately cease any efforts to prevent officials from cooperating with Congress and that the Department produce to Congress all documents collected in response to General Counsel Paul Ney’s October 3rd memorandum directing the identification, preservation, and collection of documents and other records regarding the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

LTC Vindman, Ms. Cooper, and whistleblowers like them are standing up for the Constitution they swore an oath to defend. They are patriots for being willing to do what we hope and expect all civilian and military officials will do when asked: tell the truth. It is incumbent on you to ensure that they and others who come forward are afforded the same protections as whistleblowers and are protected from retaliation.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator

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