AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
- On Tuesday morning, Army Lieutenant Colonel and National Security Council official Alexander Vindman is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
- Vindman and his family fled the former Soviet Union in the 1970s. Vindman was later commissioned into the US Army, and awarded a Purple Heart medal after being injured by an IED while serving in Iraq in 2003.
- "I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics," he said in his opening statement.
- Vindman is a particularly damaging witness for Trump because he has firsthand knowledge of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine's president that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
- His testimony also undercuts the testimony of the US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and may open Sondland up to a perjury charge.
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On Tuesday morning, Army Lieutenant Colonel and National Security Council (NSC) official Alexander Vindman is testifying publicly before the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Vindman, who is publicly testifying alongside State Department official Jennifer Williams, previously appeared before the committee in a closed-door hearing on October 29.
The New York Times previously reported that Vindman, a career Army officer and public servant currently working on Trump's NSC, was subpoenaed by the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry process after raising concerns to his superiors over Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
Vindman was commissioned into the US Army in 1999, where he completed multiple tours of duty in South Korea, Germany, and a combat deployment in Iraq. Vindman was also awarded a Purple Heart medal after being injured by an IED while serving in Iraq 2003, according to The Times.
After earning a master's degree in Eastern European, Eurasian, and Asian studies from Harvard University, Vindman became an Army foreign area officer in 2008. Following stints at the US embassies in Russia and Ukraine, he moved to the NSC in 2018 to work on Eurasian affairs.
In his six-page opening statement to Congress he gave in his closed-door hearing, obtained by several news outlets, Vindman said he "became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency" that "was harmful to U.S. government policy."
Those influences likely reference Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's back-channel campaign to encourage Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for engaging in corrupt activity. Giuliani worked closely with the US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, the US's Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry on the shadow campaign.
There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden or his son.
Vindman is a particularly damaging witness for Trump
A whistleblower complaint filed against Trump also detailed concerns about how Trump used a July 25 phone call with Zelensky to leverage "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election" by pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package.
A memo summarizing the call released by the White House confirmed the substance of the whistleblower's complaint. It showed that after telling Zelensky that "we do a lot" for Ukraine in terms of military support, Trump asked him for "a favor" by investigating Hunter Biden's business dealings and helping to discredit the Russia probe.
Career diplomats and officials including Volker, former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and acting US ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor have given damning testimony to Congress regarding Giuliani's and Sondland's campaign to condition security assistance to Ukraine on the investigations Trump wanted.
But Vindman's testimony is particularly poignant because he is the first official with direct knowledge of the July 25 call to talk to lawmakers.
His proximity to the White House's national-security apparatus and to other top officials responsible for Ukraine policy means Vindman also has knowledge of other key events connected to the impeachment inquiry.
For instance, in his opening statement, Vindman recounted how in a July 10 meeting with Ukrainian officials, Sondland, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Volker, "Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short."
Vindman said he and Fiona Hill, then the White House's senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs, told Sondland it was "inappropriate" for him to underscore the importance of Ukraine giving Trump the investigations he wanted.
"I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push," Vindman told lawmakers, according to his statement.
The army veteran said he was worried enough by the event that he reported his concerns to John Eisenberg, the NSC's top lawyer.
Vindman's testimony opens a key Trump official up to a perjury charge
Vindman's revelation is noteworthy because it directly undercuts parts of Sondland's testimony to Congress earlier this month. In particular, it raises doubts about Sondland's claim that "neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else in the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts … or any concerns that we were acting improperly."
Sondland added that if Bolton, Hill, "or any others harbored misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later."
On Monday, Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that "based on all the testimony so far, I believe that Ambassador Gordon Sondland committed perjury."
The second red flag for Vindman came on July 25, when Trump had his now-infamous call with Zelensky. Vindman, who listened in on the call, was so alarmed that he reported his concerns again to Eisenberg, believing Trump's actions could "undermine US national security."
"I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for 6 the U.S. government's support of Ukraine," he said in his opening remarks. "I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained."
Sondland is scheduled to appear publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on November 20.
Trump loyalists launched a smear campaign against Vindman when it became clear he would hurt Trump's defense
Vindman's journey to the White House began with a quintessential immigrant story. At age three, Vindman, his parents, and his twin brother fled the former Soviet Union and settled in a heavily Eastern European neighborhood in Brooklyn, where Vindman wrote in his statement that his "father worked multiple jobs to support us, all the while learning English at night."
In his opening statement in his public impeachment testimony, Vindman reflected on his immigrant story and directly addressed his story.
"Dad that I'm sitting here today in the US Capitol is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union, come here to America, in search of better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth," his statement said.
Vindman's twin, Yevgeny, also works on the NSC.
After news broke that Vindman's closed-door testimony would be unflattering to Trump, several conservative commentators on both Fox News and CNN doubted Vindman's loyalty and patriotism due to his Ukrainian heritage.
The Times reported that Ukrainian officials asked Vindman to explain Giuliani's overtures to them, because he is fluent in Ukrainian and has a deep knowledge of the region, and to help them figure out how to respond.
Appearing on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle," the former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo said The Times' reporting suggested Vindman was guilty of espionage. Yoo worked at the Justice Department under Bush and wrote several legal opinions after the 9/11 attacks to justify torturing suspected terrorists.
On October 29, the "FOX & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade described Vindman as having a "simpatico" position toward Ukraine. CNN commentator and former Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin said Vindman has "an affinity for Ukraine," adding, "it seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know that he's concerned about American policy."
Vindman indirectly rebutted those criticisms in his statement, writing, "In spite of our challenging beginnings, my family worked to build its own American dream. I have a deep appreciation for American values and ideals and the power of freedom. I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics."
House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming sharply criticized the commentators questioning Vindman's patriotism, calling them "shameful."
"Their patriotism, their love of country, we're talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who have put their lives on the line, and it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process," she said.