Washington Examiner: President Trump’s allies denounced Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for breaking ranks as he became the first current White House official to testify during impeachment proceedings.
Vindman, a Ukraine-born policy expert, outlined in prepared remarks his disagreement with Trump’s attempts to force investigations into Democrats, saying, “I did not think it was proper,” and that Trump’s actions could endanger national security.
A former Trump National Security Council official said it’s wrong for Vindman, as an active-duty member of the Army, to criticize the commander in chief on policy.
“How is an active-duty military officer allowed to go to a different branch of government to take down the president with scurrilous claims?” he said. “I think the Army should be very concerned about what this means for discipline in the force. Basically, you have a political disagreement so you vomit mutiny.”
Jason Miller, a Trump ally who served in top communications roles for the 2016 Trump campaign and presidential transition, said Vindman clearly holds views on Ukraine policy that are at odds with Trump’s.
Miller said it was concerning to see “an active-duty member of the military who is openly flaunting a disagreement with his commander in chief and showing disrespect for the chain of command.”
Vindman was one of the few officials to listen during Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, which became subject to a whistleblower complaint. His prepared statement says he brought concerns internally at the National Security Council, including to the council’s top lawyer.
Miller said he believes the impeachment inquiry, premised on Trump’s pressure for Ukraine to investigate Democrats and the timing of withholding about $400 million in foreign aid, is mooted by the fact that the aid was ultimately delivered.
“Ukraine got the money. End of story,” he said.
Miller added, “I hope the questions asked to Lt. Col. Vindman [include], ‘Who else on the NSC has shared these opinions?’”
Vindman has an identical twin brother, fellow Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who is detailed to the National Security Council as an ethics lawyer.
This week, Republican lawmakers clashed on whether it was appropriate to question Vindman’s role guiding Ukraine policy based on his birthplace. He received a Purple Heart during the Iraq War.
Victor Hansen, a military law expert and professor at New England Law, said prohibitions on disparaging or mutinous remarks could bear on Vindman’s testimony, though he believes the opening commentary probably is not punishable.
Hansen said military officers are allowed to discuss policy opinions but that “it’s a grayer area with respect to [going before] Congress.”
“Some would say that because the Department of Defense is under the executive and the president is commander in chief, the officer should not go outside that more confined chain of command,” Hansen said. But the Constitution gives oversight roles to Congress, meaning it’s OK for officers to share their opinions there, according to Hansen.
In the Vietnam War, Hansen said, officers were disciplined for questioning the legitimacy of the war, but he believes Vindman’s opening remarks aren’t disparaging or mutinous.
“I chuckle a little bit because it’s just this guy’s opinion,” Hansen said of the opening statement. “It’s not as though he’s adding new or interesting facts … I worry that Congress is trying to wrap the legitimacy, at least of this witness, around a military uniform, and I think that’s probably not a good thing to do.”
The former National Security Council official said Trump should not dismiss Vindman. “I think he should let the Army deal with this,” he said.
Potentially more damaging testimony for Trump is scheduled Thursday. Timothy Morrison, the National Security Council senior director of Europe and Russia, who had been expected to be the first current White House official to testify, is scheduled to appear for questioning that could support U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor’s accounting of an alleged Trump quid pro quo tying foreign aid to investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who worked at a Ukrainian energy firm.