WASHINGTON — An Army officer who was a prominent witness in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump last year said on Wednesday he has decided to retire after his promotion was imperiled by objections from the White House.
The incident is the latest in what Pentagon and congressional officials say could be another flash point between the president and the military.
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran who served on the staff of the White House National Security Council, is among scores of officers who have been picked to be promoted to full colonel this year. Typically, such promotions are backed by Army and Pentagon officials before moving to the White House for final approval, and then to the Senate for a confirmation vote.
But the White House had made clear to officials in the Pentagon’s office of personnel and readiness, which handles such matters, that Mr. Trump did not want to see Colonel Vindman promoted, officials said.
Mr. Trump’s allies at the White House asked Pentagon officials to find instances of misconduct by Colonel Vindman that would justify blocking his promotion, administration officials said on Wednesday.
On multiple occasions, including this week, the White House pressed the Pentagon to seek witnesses who would come forward and say that Colonel Vindman acted improperly, the officials said.
But Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy have been unable to produce such evidence, largely because it does not exist, according to one administration official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Colonel Vindman announced his decision in a short Twitter message on Wednesday morning.
“Today I officially requested retirement from the U.S. Army, an organization I love,” he said. “My family and I look forward to the next chapter of our lives.”
Colonel Vindman’s lawyer, David Pressman, said in a statement that the officer was the victim of campaign of “bullying’ and “intimidation” by the White House.
“Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President,” Mr. Pressman said. “Between honoring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers.”
Mr. Pressman added, “Vindman did what the law compelled him to do; and for that he was bullied by the President and his proxies.”
In his role as a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council staff, Colonel Vindman was on Mr. Trump’s phone call on July 25 with Ukraine’s president that later was a central element of the impeachment inquiry. Colonel Vindman testified in the House impeachment hearings that it was “improper for the president” to coerce a foreign country to investigate a political opponent.
Hours before Colonel Vindman was marched out of the White House in February by security guards, Mr. Trump foreshadowed his fate when asked if he would be pushed out. “Well, I’m not happy with him,” the president told reporters. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.”
A person familiar with Colonel Vindman’s decision said he decided to retire after more than 21 years in the Army when it became apparent he would not be able to serve in a useful capacity in his area of specialty, Eurasia affairs. He had been scheduled to start a term at the Army War College later this summer.
Colonel Vindman’s retirement, which still must be approved by the Army, comes despite promises from Mr. Esper and other senior military leaders to protect from retribution members of the armed services who return to military duties after serving tours at the White House.