Savannah Behrmann USA TODAY
Published 6:01 PM EDT Sep 14, 2020
WASHINGTON – Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry, has spoken out after months of silence, calling Trump a “useful idiot” and “unwitting agent” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his first public interview since testifying against Trump during the impeachment trial earlier this year, Vindman slammed Trump, telling The Atlantic, “I think it’s important for me to tell people that I think the president has made this country weaker. We’re mocked by our adversaries and by our allies, and we’re heading for more disaster.”
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Vindman, an Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient who was an expert on Ukraine for the National Security Council, became a key witness in the impeachment hearing. Vindman and his family fled Ukraine, then the Soviet Republic, when he was a child.
He testified that he was alarmed by Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to open investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had business interests in the country.
That conversation triggered Trump’s impeachment, and Vindman became a star witness in the House Democrats’ probe.
Of Trump reassuring Zelensky, Vindman told The Atlantic, “I suspected it was criminal, but I knew it was wrong… Trump knew he had them over a barrel. I found it repulsive and un-American for an American president to try to get a leg up by pressuring a foreign leader to get dirt on an American politician.”
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After his acquittal in the Senate, Trump fired Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny, another Army officer on the national security staff. Vindman subsequently retired from the Army, citing “bullying, intimidation and retaliation” by Trump in explaining his decision.
In the interview, Vindman said the Russians “may or may not have dirt” on Trump
“but they don’t have to use it. They have more effective and less risky ways to employ him.”
Vindman is not the first national-security official to suggest Trump may be compromised by the Russians. During his tenure, Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence, repeatedly rebuffed Trump’s efforts to downplay the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election in his favor.
According to Bob Woodward’s new book, Coats is still suspicious about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin.
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Vindman continued to claim Trump “has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is.”
“President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler,” Vindman stated. “He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.”
“In the Army we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you,” Vindman added. “This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.”
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In a later interview with NBC Nightly News that will fully air Monday night, Vindman says he “was not a never-Trumper before, I was nonpartisan,” reflecting the neutral tone he used during his testimony to Congress.
However, Vindman said that his views changed “as the president’ attacked and politicized me directly,” and he now “absolutely” considers himself to be a “never-Trumper.”
“We cannot have four more years of this president and the kind of damage that he’s done to American institutions. We have other choices,” Vindman says. “And frankly, it’s a binary choice. It’s one or the other. We can’t sit out on the fence.”
“I can tell you this: that the choice for me is clear,” he continues. “I’m going to be voting for the other guy.”
Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook, Nicholas Wu, Deirdre Shesgreen, Christal Hayes, William Cummings
Published 6:01 PM EDT Sep 14, 2020