Lt. Col. Vindman should not fear retaliation over Ukraine testimony, Esper says

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (U.S. Army photo(

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman should not fear retaliation over his testimony to the U.S. Congress in its impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday.

Vindman, now detailed to the White House National Security Council, has been targeted by Trump following his Oct. 29 congressional testimony. Trump tweeted that Vindman was a "Never Trumper witness," raising questions about potential fallout on his military career.

"He shouldn't have any fear of retaliation," Esper told a small group of reporters during a flight to New York, adding that he had reinforced the "no retaliation" message in a conversation with the secretary of the Army.

Vindman was among the U.S. officials in the White House monitoring Trump's call on July 25 with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a main focus of the impeachment probe in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

According to a transcript of his testimony, Vindman said he had no doubt that Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden in return for an Oval Office visit for the Ukrainian leader.

"This was about getting a White House meeting," Vindman said in his testimony. "It was a demand for him to...fulfill this particular prerequisite."

Vindman told lawmakers that he believed ties between the United States and Ukraine have been damaged by the administration's actions.

"It undercuts U.S. resolve to support Ukraine and certainly puts a question into their mind whether they in fact have U.S. support," Vindman said.

Democrats have argued that Trump abused his power in pressing a vulnerable U.S. ally to carry out investigations that would benefit Trump politically.

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the Republican president in the 2020 election. His son Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Vindman would not be pulled early from his previously scheduled detail to the National Security Council (NSC), after which time he would return to the military.

A person familiar with the matter, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Vindman's two-year-long detail to the White House ends in July, at which point he was expected to attend a program at the U.S. Army War College.

The source said Vindman returned to his White House assignment after his testimony and there had been no change in his responsibilities.

Esper, for his part, declined to speculate about when Vindman would return to military ranks. However, he said he supported plans by Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, to reduce the size of the National Security Council.

"He's trying to shrink the National Security Council back down to the size of what it was many, many years ago," Esper said. "I hope he does. I think the National Security Council staff needs to shrink and focus on coordinating between the departments," Esper said.

The number of NSC policy advisers has trended higher over the past 30 years. President George H.W. Bush had less than 50, Bill Clinton went up to 96, George W. Bush's grew to 136 in his second term, and Barack Obama at one point had 184, according to NSC records.

O'Brien has said he wants to bring the size of the White House agency down to 117 policy advisers from its current strength of about 178. That is about the size the NSC was under the leadership of Condoleezza Rice when she was President George W. Bush's national security adviser during Bush's first term in the early 2000s.

The FBI is treating the recent shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, as a terrorist attack, several media outlets reported on Sunday.

"We work with the presumption that this was an act of terrorism," USA Today quoted FBI Agent Rachel Rojas as saying at a news conference.

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WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un risks losing "everything" if he resumes hostility and his country must denuclearize, after the North said it had carried out a "successful test of great significance."

"Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore," Trump said on Twitter, referring to his first summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018.

"He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November," he said.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vaughan Dill/Released)

The three sailors whose lives were cut short by a gunman at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on Friday "showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil," said base commander Navy Capt. Tim Kinsella.

Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters were killed in the shooting, the Navy has announced.

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The Pentagon has a credibility problem that is the result of the White House's scorched earth policy against any criticism. As a result, all statements from senior leaders are suspect.

We're beyond the point of defense officials being unable to say for certain whether a dog is a good boy or girl. Now we're at the point where the Pentagon has spent three days trying to knock down a Wall Street Journal story about possible deployments to the Middle East, and they've failed to persuade either the press or Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the United States was considering deploying up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to thwart any potential Iranian attacks. The story made clear that President Trump could ultimately decide to send a smaller number of service members, but defense officials have become fixated on the number 14,000 as if it were the only option on the table.

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This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Gen. David Berger, the US Marine Corps commandant, suggested the concerns surrounding a service members' use of questionable Chinese-owned apps like TikTok should be directed against the military's leadership, rather than the individual troops.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday morning, Berger said the younger generation of troops had a "clearer view" of the technology "than most people give them credit for."

"That said, I'd give us a 'C-minus' or a 'D' in educating the force on the threat of even technology," Berger said. "Because they view it as two pieces of gear, 'I don't see what the big deal is.'"

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