Ukraine Pol: I Was Joking When I Asked Vindman To Be Our Defense Minister

Erin Banco
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty

During impeachment hearings on Tuesday morning, the lead Republican counsel pressed Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman on an offer he’d received to take the position of defense minister in Kiev. The line of questioning seemed designed to raise doubts about Vindman’s allegiance to the U.S. right as he was testifying about his concerns over President Donald Trump’s efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on his domestic political rivals. 

But a former top national security official in Ukraine told The Daily Beast that he was “joking” when he offered Vindman the post and never actually had the authority to make such an offer.

Oleksander Danylyuk, the former Chairman of the National Security and Defence Council in Ukraine, said he only remembers speaking with Vindman once about the defense minister position. He said it he and Vindman had engaged in a light-hearted conversation about how the two used to live close to one another in the former Soviet Union. It was then that Danylyuk jokingly told Vindman that he should take the defense minister job in Ukraine. 

“We both smiled and laughed,” Danylyuk said. “It was clearly a joke.” Danylyuk said he wouldn’t have been able to seriously offer Vindman the position without direct sign off from President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

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Republican House investigators consistently questioned Vindman during his public hearing about his interactions with Danylyuk, including whether the former Ukrainian national security official offered him the job of defense minister. 

“Ukraine's a country that's experienced a war with Russia,” said GOP counsel Steve Castor. “Certainly, their Minister of Defense is a pretty key position. For the Ukrainians—President Zelensky, Mr. Danylyuk—to bestow that honor on you, at least asking you, that was a big honor, correct?”

Vindman said that Danylyuk had suggested he take the job three times but that he “immediately dismissed” the offers and reported the encounters to his superiors at the National Security Council. Vindman also noted that Danylyuk might have been joking when they spoke about the position.

Danylyuk left his post in Ukraine in September. But during his time in the Zelensky administration he worked closely with U.S. officials, including former National Security Advisor John Bolton, on U.S.-Ukraine relations. Danylyuk was present for a July 10 meeting at the White House with Bolton, Vindman and other White House and State Department officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordan Sondland. He also met with Vice President Pence in Warsaw in August and pushed for the U.S. to quickly release U.S. military aid to the country.

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