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Alexander Vindman: Trump Is Putin’s ‘Useful Idiot’

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Alexander Vindman: Trump Is Putin’s ‘Useful Idiot’

In his first interview, a key witness in the impeachment trial says Trump goes out of his way to try to please the Russian president.

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by Jeffrey Goldberg
9/14/20

We sit in the shade outside the Kennedy Center, masks off. People walk by, but no one recognizes him. He’s in shorts and wearing glasses. He looks more like an engineer who forgot his pocket protector than a former infantry officer, one wounded in Iraq. Utterly obscure in the summer of 2019—a bright, awkward, ambitious lieutenant colonel laboring in the salt mines of the U.S. national-security apparatus—by fall he was a linchpin witness in Donald Trump’s impeachment. His fame, all of the controversy, the demolition of his military career are owed to a single telephone call—a “perfect” call, in Trump’s formulation. On July 25 of last year, Vindman, who, as the National Security Council’s director for European affairs, organized the call, listened, with other officials, to a conversation between Trump and the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. “I would like you to do us a favor,” Trump told Zelensky, working his way to the subject of Joe Biden. Vindman was surprised by Trump’s approach, and by its implications. He had an aversion to shakedowns, and this, to him, felt like a shakedown. What Vindman learned that day, he says, wasn’t just the extent to which Giuliani was attempting to weaponize the Ukrainian justice system against Biden, but that Trump himself was involved.

“I just had a visceral reaction to what I was hearing,” he says. “I suspected it was criminal, but I knew it was wrong. He made an official complaint to John Eisenberg, the chief NSC lawyer, and Michael Ellis, a White House lawyer and Eisenberg’s deputy. Vindman’s reporting set in motion all that was to come. Vindman came to find that there were no guardrail boundaries with Trump, he says. Trump’s desire was to impress Putin, and to shape American policy in ways that pleased Putin. I ask Vindman the key question: Does he believe that Trump is an asset of Russian intelligence? “President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler, which makes him an unwitting agent of Putin,” he says. But do you think Russia is blackmailing Trump? “They may or may not have dirt on him, but they don’t have to use it,” he says. “He has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is, and so he admires him. He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.” Vindman continues, “In the Army we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.”

Snippets of a Jeffrey Goldberg interview with Army Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Alexander Vindman who was assigned to the White House as a National Security Agency employee.

As vindictive reprisal for testifying at his impeachment trial (Vindman was under subpoena), Trump had him removed from the White House and held up his promotion to full Colonel.
 
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