Alexander Vindman sues Trump Jr, Giuliani and ex-White House officials over alleged intimidation

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Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman has filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump Jr, ex-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and two former Trump White House officials, Julia Hahn and Daniel Scavino, for allegedly conspiring to retaliate against the decorated combat veteran after he testified during the 2019 House hearings that led to the first impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump.

The lawsuit makes use of provisions of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act which makes it unlawful for “two or more persons” to “conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from accepting or holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof”.

Mr Vindman, a Ukraine expert who was born in the former Soviet Union and emigrated to the US as a child, was the White House National Security Council’s Director for Eastern European, Caucasus, and Russian Affairs on 25 July 2019, the day the then-president held his now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Mr Trump used the call with Mr Zelensky as an opportunity to pressure him into announcing a sham investigation into Joe Biden — then a potential candidate in the 2020 election — and his son, attorney Hunter Biden, in exchange for needed security assistance and an invitation to the White House.

Nearly five months later, Mr Vindman — who had listened in on the call with other NSC staffers — told members of the House Intelligence Committee that he had been “concerned” by what Mr Trump had said because it was “improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent”.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Mr Vindman’s attorneys allege that he “immediately became the target of a dangerous campaign of witness intimidation by President Trump and a group of conspirators” — Mr Giuliani, Mr Trump’s son, Ms Hahn and Ms Scavino — whose “common, unlawful objective” was “to deter Lt Col Vindman from testifying in the future and to retaliate against him after he did so”.

“The attacks on Lt Col Vindman did not simply happen by accident or coincidence, nor were they the result of normal politics or modern newscycles. Rather, the coordinated campaign was the result of a common understanding and agreement ... to target Lt. Col. Vindman in a specific way for the specific purpose of intimidation and retaliation,” Mr Vindman’s attorneys wrote in their complaint.

Mr Vindman’s attorneys added that the attacks on the decorated officer and combat-wounded veteran “were specifically tailored to falsely paint him as disloyal to the United States, engaged in ‘espionage,’ and a politically motivated ‘leftist’ within the military who was insubordinate and even broke the law” even as he was prevented from responding publicly to defend himself by military regulations.

Both Mr Vindman and his twin brother, then-National Security Council attorney Lieutenant Colonel Evgeny Vindman, were removed from their White House roles on Mr Trump’s orders shortly after every Republican senator save Utah’s Mitt Romney voted to acquit Mr Trump in the first of his two impeachment trials in early 2020.

Mr Trump subsequently browbeat Pentagon officials into withholding the Ukraine expert’s expected promotion to full Colonel later that year.

The retired officer’s lawyers further alleged that the Trump-led retaliation campaign “destroyed” their client’s “ability to serve in any national security position or foreign affairs role” and describes Mr Vindman’s military career as having been “effectively taken from him”.

“Ultimately, after his career was effectively taken from him by the pervasive, false attacks on his loyalty and service, Lt Col Vindman was left with little choice but to retire from the military altogether,” they added.

In a USA Today op-ed explaining his decision to sue, Mr Vindman said he filed his lawsuit “because [he] believe[s] in the active role all citizens must play in upholding our democracy”.

"I came to the United States as a child when my family fled autocratic oppression in the Soviet Union. I know democracy is fragile and I've committed more than two decades of my professional life to its defence,” he wrote.

“We can't have a functional government or healthy democracy if witnesses can't testify, and if federal officials can't do their jobs, without fear of payback.”