Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman will testify Tuesday morning in the third public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in the impeachment inquiry.
Vindman serves on the National Security Council as the director of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, the Caucuses, and Belarus. In this capacity, he prepared talking points for Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and was listening into the call along with five other officials at the White House.
Vindman also has a twin brother who works at the NSC as an ethics lawyer. They are Ukrainian immigrants, who arrived in the U.S. as young children, who both joined the Army. Vindman was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Vindman arrived at the NSC in July 2018, and is slated to be there until July 2020, when he takes an assignment at the Army War College. He showed up to his closed-door deposition in his full military dress uniform, despite wearing civilian clothes to work at the NSC, thrilling liberal pundits. He previously served at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as an adviser on Russia.
He is primarily important, however, because he was the first witness to testify who had actually heard President Donald Trump’s telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25. He immediately told NSC counsel John Eisenberg about the call (without informing his direct supervisor, Tim Morrison, who testifies later Tuesday).
Vindman might appear to be a good witness for Democrats, in that he is a patriotic citizen whose concern about the Trump-Zelensky call mirrors the concerns expressed by the so-called “whistleblower”: namely, that the president appeared, to Vindman, to be placing his personal or political interests above the national security of the U.S.
However, what emerged in Vindman’s closed-door testimony was also a resentment at the fact that the president was determined to conduct his own foreign policy, independent of the bureaucrats and the “interagency consensus.”
Morrison would later testify that he did not trust Vindman’s judgment, and the witness often seemed evasive. Democrats were determined to prevent him from answering any questions that could lead to the identity of the whistleblower, which he said he did not know — though it was not clear how widely he had shared information. As Washington Examiner columnist Byron York observed:
The Vindman transcript also showed a witness whose testimony was filled with opinion, with impressions, who had little new to offer, who withheld important information from the committee, who was steeped in a bureaucracy that has often been hostile to the president, and whose lawyer, presumably with Vindman’s approval, expressed unmistakable disdain, verging on contempt, for members of Congress who asked inconvenient questions.
Key Democrat Talking Points
1. Democrats will likely seek to portray Vindman — who may testify in his uniform — as a patriotic American who witnessed and sought to speak out against the perceived “quid pro quo” by Trump, namely aid for investigations. They will note that Vindman thought it was “inappropriate” for the president to “demand” (as he put it) that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen — namely, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. He was particularly concerned because Vice President Biden was a presidential candidate in the 2020 election.
- What Democrats aren’t telling you: Vindman could not say it was illegal for the president to ask for an investigation — just that it was “wrong,” in his opinion. He was primarily concerned that the president was giving credence to what he called an “unproductive narrative” being pushed by “outside influencers” — namely, the claim that the government of Ukraine was still corrupt and possibly hostile to Trump. In addition, Vindman also testified that it would be worth encouraging Ukraine to investigate Burisma “in the course of enforcing the rule of law” — which, he said, was one of the things the U.S. wanted to promote in Ukraine. Asked whether Hunter Biden was qualified for his board position, he answered: “[I]t doesn’t look like he was.” And he agreed that investigating interference in the 2016 election was in the interest of national security — he simply did not believe that Ukraine was as important as Russia, which did “far more interference.”
2. Democrats will also use Vindman’s testimony to show that there was some alleged cover-up of the phone call. Vindman testified that Zelensky brought up the word “Burisma” during the call, which was replaced with “the company” in the transcript. Vindman has also testified that he thought it was unusual that the call transcript was placed on a highly secret server that could be accessed by fewer than usual people.
- What Democrats aren’t telling you: Vindman’s proposed edits would not have changed much in the transcript. He himself said that the transcript appeared to be “very accurate” and there was no malicious intent in the omission of the word “Burisma.” He also testified that it was “not unusual” that a transcript would be moved to a more secure server, and that the decision to move the transcript had been made by the very NSC counsel he had approached. Vindman’s supervisor, Tim Morrison, would later contradict Vindman’s testimony about the server, the transcript, and the edits, claiming he had accepted Vindman’s suggested changes.
3. Vindman is presented as a highly knowledgeable official who respected the chain of command, which is why he reported his concerns immediately to legal counsel at the NSC, acting on the practices he learned in the military..
- What Democrats aren’t telling you: Vindman never raised his concerns with his immediate supervisor. He also contradicted the commander-in-chief: while Trump had made a request of the Ukrainian president, Vindman admitted — proudly, it seems — that he had advised the Ukrainians to ignore it as an unwelcome intrusion into U.S. politics. Vindman also admitted he did no research of his own on Burisma to find out what Trump and Zelensky might have been talking about, and whether Trump’s concerns might have had merit (indeed, the issue had been flagged by concerned officials even during the Obama administration).
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
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