Thursday, June 20, 2024
MyDosti AD
Home Business Alexander Vindman, the White House staffer who sparked Trump’s 1st impeachment, tells...

Alexander Vindman, the White House staffer who sparked Trump’s 1st impeachment, tells his story


OCTOBER 30, 2021

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, testifies Nov. 19, 2019, before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in a public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into allegations President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. – Hannah Gaber, USA TODAY

Alexander Vindman was preparing to testify at President Donald Trump’s first impeachment hearing – in an inquiry that arose from Vindman’s report of a troubling White House phone conversation – when the National Security Council staffer faced heated pushback from a certain Trump ally.

His father.

“Support the president!” Semyon Vindman demanded during a long drive, fraught with conflict, to a family wedding in Rhode Island in September 2019. “Do whatever the president wants!”

“It was a source of tension,” the younger Vindman acknowledged dryly in an interview with USA TODAY at his home in a leafy Washington suburb. “He wanted me to kind of reconcile with President Trump. He had this image of me, you know, marching into the Oval Office, saluting sharply and saying, ‘OK, President Trump, how do we fix this?’”

While his conservative father sat next to him in the front seat, declaring his support for Trump and warning about the risks of testifying, his pragmatic wife was in the back seat. Rachel Vindman quietly used her smartphone to search for a lawyer to represent her husband through the firestorm that was about to upend their lives – and the president’s.

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a key witness in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, is photographed in his home on July 29, 2021, in Woodbridge, Virginia. – Hannah Gaber, USA TODAY

One month later, Alexander Vindman did testify before a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, detailing an explosive quid pro quo he said he had heard Trump offer Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. During a phone conversation Vindman monitored in the Situation Room, Trump had asked for “a favor,” he said: for Kiev to announce a corruption investigation into political rival Joe Biden in exchange for the release of U.S. military aid.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a witness in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, says his father was adamant that he should support the president. – Hannah Gaber, USA TODAY

Vindman details his side of the story – and his own “American story,” as a 3-year-old émigré from the Soviet Union who made it to an office in the White House – in a book to be published Tuesday by Harper Books. “Here, Right Matters” depicts a narcissistic, mercurial president who seemed to have little interest in the substance of national security policy, surrounded by aides whose priorities were currying favor and protecting his back.

The book’s title comes from the most memorable words of Vindman’s testimony to Congress. The words weren’t part of his prepared opening statement but came during an exchange with Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.

Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, testify Nov. 19, 2019, before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. – Jack Gruber, Jack Gruber/USA oday

At the hearing, Vindman didn’t reveal his father’s support for Trump or relate the initial advice he had heard from him. He did tell the panel he had reassured his dad about what might happen if he spoke out. He thanked him for his “brave act of hope” in emigrating from the Soviet Union 40 years earlier as a widowed father with three small children. In the USA, Vindman assured his dad, “I will be fine for telling the truth.”

Why was he confident about that, Maloney asked?

Vindman replied, “Congressman, because this is America. … And here, right matters.”

More earnest nerd than political mastermind

Two years and one week have passed since the president’s phone call. Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of Vindman’s return to civilian life after he realized that his once-bright future in the military had been extinguished by blowback from his decision to report the call, as he believed his duty required.

Sitting at his kitchen table, he came across less as political mastermind and more as earnest nerd – the word he used to describe himself – who still seemed surprised by the historic spotlight in which he found himself. Before that, he had been sufficiently apolitical that he couldn’t remember whether he cast a ballot for president in 2016, although if he did, he’s certain it wasn’t for Trump. (“It’s not something I take pride in now,” he said sheepishly about having been an unreliable voter. “Actually, it’s like ‘shame on me.”)

When the furor erupted and a friend phoned to say his name was exploding on cable news, Vindman and his wife struggled to find the channels  because they hadn’t watched them before. “They were like, ‘Turn it on!’” Rachel recalled with a laugh. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t even know how to turn it on!’”

Now, of course, they know how to find the cable news stations. Rachel, who had moved 11 times during her first 10 years as a military spouse, following her husband’s deployments, has become a public figure of her own. She co-hosts a politically minded podcast called “The Suburban Women Problem” and is a more irreverent voice on social media than her husband.

Their daughter, 10, has developed similar instincts. Whenever Eleanor spotted a house with a Trump sign in the yard – not an uncommon sight in their neighborhood during the 2020 campaign – she suggested that they ring the doorbell and offer to talk about it. “Maybe she takes after her mom a little bit,” Rachel said.

For Alexander Vindman, the path to this new stage in his life hasn’t always been smooth. As it turned out, his father’s warnings about potential repercussions – reprisals, character assassination, the end of his career – weren’t unfounded. Vindman said his disenchanted father voted for Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

Two days after Trump was acquitted in that first Senate impeachment trial, Vindman was fired from his job at the NSC as director for European affairs. His identical twin brother, Yevgeny, the top ethics official at the NSC, also was fired.

Alexander Vindman Twins Eugene and Alexander Vindman were fired from the National Security Council.

Alexander said he remembers the words of an NSC official who arrived unannounced in his office that day, accompanied by a security officer who would escort him off the premises. “Please step away from your computer,” she told him. “Leadership has determined your services are no longer required.”

That surprised no one. Indeed, Vindman had already packed up and carted home his personal items. More surprising, and more dismaying to him, was the apparent conclusion of Pentagon brass that he had become too politically toxic – that he had “flown too close to the sun” – to resume the full promise of his military career. After 21 years of service, including a Purple Heart for injuries he suffered in Iraq, he reluctantly retired.

“I loved my military service,” he said. But when he was under attack, his family’s safety threatened, he said, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley were “weak-kneed” in their response, perhaps because they themselves felt under fire from Trump. “I ultimately came to the conclusion that there was no point in sticking around.”

Vindman, 46, has landed on his feet, albeit onto a landscape quite different from the one he inhabited before. He writes for the Lawfare blog, is a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, signed a consulting contract with a multinational corporation and delivers speeches about principled decision-making. He is working on his doctoral dissertation at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

He has gained a certain authority when it comes to presidential impeachment. “The next time there’s an impeachment,” he said half-jokingly, “I’ll be back up there like John Dean,” the White House counsel who was a crucial witness in President Richard Nixon’s impeachment and emerged as a regular commentator during Trump’s impeachments.

Vindman has become a hero to those who credit him with saving democracy and a villain to those who blame him for undermining a president they revere.

On Twitter, the platform that Trump had used to such effect before being banned, Vindman has more than half a million followers. His avatar is a tiny cartoon version of himself wearing a military uniform and oversized cap. His posture ramrod, he looks straight ahead with a determined expression on his face.

Weighing the ‘what ifs’ 

The moment the call between Trump and Zelenskyy was over, Vindman knew he would have to report it up the chain of command, whatever the consequences. He walked from the Situation Room to his brother’s office at the NSC and closed the door.

“If what I just heard becomes public,” he told him, “the president will be impeached.”

Even after the impeachment and official reports that followed, the public transcript of the call is incomplete, he said. In Vindman’s contemporaneous notes, Zelenskyy explicitly mentioned Burisma Holdings, the energy board on which Biden’s son Hunter served. Trump declared, in a statement not supported by evidence, that “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution” of that company.

For whatever reason, Vindman said, his efforts to correct that record didn’t make it into the final version of the call. “It’s possible somebody screened out my edits because they are significant, but I don’t know that for certain,” he said. The omissions also might be the result of “bureaucratic incompetence,” he said.

Let’s think about the “what ifs,” I asked Vindman. For himself, what if he hadn’t reported that phone call?

“I’d be a colonel,” he said. He had been recommended for a promotion to full colonel and chosen for an elite program at the U.S. War College. Once that was done, he would have been in a position to become, perhaps, the Army attaché in Moscow or Kiev. He might have had a realistic prospect of being promoted to general.

For the country, what if he hadn’t reported the call?

Under “the most rosy scenario,” he said, the House committees beginning to investigate why the Trump administration held up military aid to Ukraine approved by Congress might have uncovered the president’s pitch to Zelenskyy.

“But that’s the most rosy outcome,” he said. “I think the more likely outcome would be that none of this potentially would have unfolded.”

Vindman raised another “what-if” question: What if Trump had been convicted by the Senate in his first impeachment trial and removed from office?

“The president was not held accountable for his actions,” bolstering his belief that he was basically above the law, Vindman said.

“There’s a direct kind of narrative that feeds through being emboldened and acting with impunity through the early days of COVID … the riots in the summer that the president inflamed, the insurrection,” Vindman said. “I think there’s a continuous line because the Senate and the political actors chose not to live up to their rules” in demanding accountability.

“At the same time, the American public weighed all that,” he said, “and voted him out of office.”

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a key witness in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, is photographed in his home on July 29, 2021, in Woodbridge, Virginia. Hannah Gaber, USA TODAY

Courtesy/Source: This article originally appeared on USA TODAY