Last fall, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a member of the National Security Council staff, was a star witness against President Trump at House impeachment hearings. Since then, he has left public view, left the White House and left the Army. Now, with an election approaching, he is launching what appears to be a media campaign to take shots at the president.
Vindman is making news by saying things like this: “President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler, which makes him an unwitting agent of Putin.” Vindman said that in an interview with The Atlantic, which has become a much-read Resistance clearinghouse.
On Monday night, Vindman spoke to NBC News. “We cannot have four more years of this president and the kind of damage that he’s done to American institutions,” Vindman said, adding that he is now “absolutely a NeverTrumper.” Vindman said he wants to inform voters about Trump and “persuade them to choose an alternative.”
Neither The Atlantic nor NBC devoted much attention to the details of Vindman’s role in the impeachment. And neither clarified what, specifically, Vindman did to start the impeachment process.
In my new book, “Obsession: Inside the Washington Establishment’s Never-Ending War on Trump,” I report that House Republicans came to believe that Vindman was the initial force behind impeachment. Remember that in the Ukraine affair, the whistleblower — never publicly identified — filed a complaint about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That complaint eventually resulted in impeachment. But someone had to tell the whistleblower about the call. That person got the action started. Who was it? House Republicans strongly believed it was Vindman.
On July 25, 2019, Vindman was one of several people in the national security and foreign policy bureaucracy who listened to the president’s phone call live, as it happened. And of those several people, Vindman was the only one who thought there was something wrong with the call. He did not know if it was a crime, he later testified, but he believed it was definitely wrong.
On July 26, 2019, the day after the Trump-Zelensky call, a CIA official — the person who became the whistleblower — wrote a memo describing a “conversation I had this afternoon with a White House official about the telephone call yesterday morning.” The soon-to-be whistleblower wrote, “The official who listened to the entirety of the phone call was visibly shaken by what had transpired and seemed keen to inform a trusted colleague within the U.S. national security apparatus about the call.”
Republican House investigators asked Vindman who he talked to about his concerns over the call. Vindman named the people he talked to inside the National Security Council. Then he was asked who, outside the NSC, he told about the call. He said there were two people. One was George Kent, a State Department official who dealt with Ukraine. And the other person was ... at that point, Vindman, with the full support of Democrats, would not say.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff forbade Vindman from answering. Why? Because, Schiff said, identifying the final person Vindman told about the call would identify the whistleblower.
Republicans asked over and over. Each time, Democrats refused to allow Vindman to answer. That person must never, ever be named, they said. And why? Because it would identify the whistleblower.
Republicans then reached the obvious conclusion: That last person Vindman told about the call was the person who became the whistleblower. Vindman effectively got the whistleblower affair, and thus impeachment, rolling. “Vindman was the person on the call who went to the whistleblower after the call, to give the whistleblower the information he needed to file his complaint,” Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin told me.
On NBC, Vindman again did not name that person. “I know who I spoke to,” he said, “but do I know that that was the person that then made the complaint? I do not.”
One of the many noteworthy aspects of the Trump impeachment was that, even though it was a matter of the most serious public concern, it began with an anonymous complaint that has remained anonymous through secret and public hearings, through committee investigations, through a House impeachment vote and, finally, through a Senate impeachment trial. The identity of the whistleblower has remained a secret. And related to that, the identity of the final person with whom Vindman discussed the Trump-Zelensky call remains a secret, too — one he appears ready to keep for a long, long time.