President Trump’s former chief of staff Marine Gen. (Ret.) John Kelly praised former National Security Council staffer Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified against the president during the impeachment inquiry, during a speech at Drew University in New Jersey on Wednesday, according to a report.
Kelly said, according to the Atlantic, that Vindman is blameless and simply following the training he received as a soldier when he reported concerns he had with the president’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the NSC’s general counsel.
“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly told the audience at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, according to the publication. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”
Kelly said that Vindman was rightly disturbed by the call and said Vindman properly notified his superiors, despite him not going to his direct superiors but instead going to the NSC general counsel and likely sharing his concerns with the “whistleblower,” whose second-hand complaint about the call was used to launch the House Democrats’ impeachment effort.
Vindman was asked during the impeachment inquiry who in the intelligence community he spoke to about the call and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) refused to let him answer out of concern for revealing the whistleblower’s identity.
Kelly asserted, according to the Atlantic, that Trump did condition military aid on Zelensky’s willingness to dig up dirt on presidential candidate Joe Biden. Kelly left the White House in January 2019, months before the July 25, 2019, phone call.
He also reportedly called conditioning military aid to Ukraine on investigating Biden a “momentous change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine,” which Vindman was right to flag since other federal agencies needed to know about the shift.
Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against … the Russians. … And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that’s what that guy [Vindman] was most interested in.
He also said that when he heard Trump tell Zelensky he wanted to see the Biden family investigated, that was tantamount to an “illegal order.”
“We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss,'” he reportedly said.
Kelly also criticized Trump for intervening in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, according to the Atlantic.
Trump stepped in to allow Gallagher to stay in the SEALs and reversed a demotion after he was acquitted of murdering a teenage Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighter but convicted on one count for posing with the fighter’s corpse.
“The idea that the commander in chief intervened there, in my opinion, was exactly the wrong thing to do… Had I been there, I think I could have prevented it,” he reportedly said.
After a woman in the crowd said that Trump had “elevated” Gallagher, Kelly reportedly responded, “Yep.”