Read Transcript EXPAND
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Our next guest was a key witness during Former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial. Now, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman Mis suing several of Trump’s closest allies, including his eldest son. And he tells Michel Martin, they tried to intimidate and retaliate against him for testifying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, thank you so much for joining us today.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL ALEXANDER VINDMAN, AUTHOR, “HERE, RIGHTS MATTERS: AN AMERICAN STORY”: Very happy to join you. Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Yesterday, in D.C.’s District Court, you filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, the executive vice president of the Trump organization, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s close friend and adviser, often described as his personal attorney. Julia Hahn, former White House deputy communications director, and Dan Scavino, former White House deputy chief of staff for communications. Before we get into the substance of the suit, I just wanted to ask, how are you feeling right now?
VINDMAN: I’m — I have mixed feelings, but I could tell you one of those feelings is I feel righteous. I feel like I’m doing the right thing. I feel like I’m finally taking a step to hold these folks accountable, these nefarious actors accountable for the things they did to me, to harm my family and career, and my twin brother who is still serving in uniform that’s stigmatized to somehow start to pin back their activities against other officials. But I’m also, frankly, apprehensive. I mean, I’m going to be the target of right-wing media. I’m going to be vilified again. And, you know, it’s almost like picking out a scab, opening an old sore, and I’m just going to have to deal with that.
MARTIN: And why did you feel it was worth it?
VINDMAN: It’s the right thing to do. I did what I was supposed to do. I did my duty. I reported wrong doing and abuse of power through official channels. It ended up becoming the subject of an investigation, an impeachment investigation. I was compelled to testify by way of subpoena. And at every turn, I looked at and firmly resolved to do what I was supposed to do without shying away from my obligations or succumbing to fears. And as a result, I was targeted for retaliation and intimidation by Donald Trump, who’s obviously written throughout the claim as the person that advanced this enterprise, a whole bunch of other folks who were complicit, but I wanted to make sure that there was an effort undertaken to start to hold these folks accountable, expose their wrong doing through the court system, and start to somehow limit their ability, their freedom of maneuver to attack folks for just doing the right thing.
MARTIN: The lawsuit alleges that Trump and his allies “engaged in an intentional concerted campaign of unlawful intimidation and retaliation against the sitting director of the National Security Council and decorated military officer, you, to prevent him from and then punish him for testifying truthfully before Congress for impeachment proceedings against president Trump.” So, a couple of questions here, why these four in particular, and what do you allege that they did?
VINDMAN: Sure. So, these four folks, there’s a great deal of evidence to suggest that these four folks were directly involved in the campaign of intimidation. If you read through the complaint, you’ll see, you know, numerous references to Donald Trump Jr.’s action, it’s clear by other people’s testimony, including Donald Trump’s previous personal attorney, Cohen, that Don Jr. doesn’t take any action without the blessing or the instruction of his father. Julia Hahn, she’s on record sending forward a series of attack talking points that were supposed to go to right-wing media outlets, and ham handedly, they were distributed more widely. That’s listed in the complaint. Also, Scavino was responsible for communications, he was the one that helped orchestrate or realize, you know, when Donald Trump wasn’t communicating directly with the media or with Fox News, which — there’s a clear record of him doing so. Don — Dan Scavino was the one that was fulfilling his mandates, he was the one that was handling the Twitter account that attacked me. I mean — and Rudy Giuliani, he also personally attacked me and was, obviously, complicit in the first impeachment and, you know, looking for all and every way to keep Donald Trump in power and to attack the president’s opponents, whether they were intentionally opponents or not. In my case, I was not looking to opposed the president. I was just giving truthful testimony. So, I think we’ll show these folks do meet the burden of proof to hold them accountable. I think we will uncover — this is just the tip of the iceberg, we’ll uncover a lot more nefarious actors, other folks that were complicit in retaliation and intimidation and bullying the folks that basically orchestrated the termination of my military career, the folks that threatened and intimidated me and my family, and continue to affect the career of my twin brother.
MARTIN: Talk a little bit more, if you would, about what led to your decision to take this course of action, because I don’t think it’s just about having your say, because as you — as, you know, you’ve written a book, which has been well received, called “Here, Right Matters.” So, in substance, you know, you’ve had your say. Clearly, you feel that having your say is not sufficient. Could you talk a little bit more about what your hope and expectation is for this lawsuit? I mean, and also, I’m curious to think if you feel that the legal system, the criminal justice system, even the political system for demanding accountability isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.
VINDMAN: In certain regards, I think that’s a great place to start. I think the political system is hyper polarized and in certain ways, has been so heavily propagandized, at least on one side that there is no willingness on the part of Republicans to hold the president to account. I can’t imagine any other administration at any point in the past that would be so beholden to President Trump either out of looking to profit, looking to serve their interests or from fear of retaliation, like I was retaliating against, it had an enormous chilling effect to be the subject of the president’s attacks and tweets. So, I think there’s not enough being done on the political front. I know that the courts, I have every reason to believe that they will do their job. They have their independent court system that will look at the evidence and it will help illuminate the wrong doings of the Trump administration, the way they dealt with their corruption and the way they dealt with officials, attempted to silence officials, intimidate officials from doing duties. I think all these things come to bear. You are absolutely right. You know, I probably could have let sleeping dogs lie with a book. But there’s — that’s only kind of like, you know, for those that wish to read about this or listen to what I have to say about how I’ve been treated is not the same thing as accountability for the courts, where there’s a judgment by court of wrong doing, and then the punishment opposed. I think it’s the — both of toes that are essential. It’s the punishment in particular that could start to have an effect on reducing the freedom of folks like Don Jr. or Fox News to act with impunity, to have a free hand in attacking people and not suffering any consequences.
MARTIN: You wrote — you published an op-ed in USA Today yesterday morning. You wrote, we can’t have a functional government or healthy democracy if witnesses can’t testify and if federal officials can’t do their jobs without fear of pay back. Congress recognized this in 1871 when it passed a federal law intended to prohibit conspiracies to intimidate and retaliate against witnesses and federal officials carrying out their duties. What have the last two years been like for you? If you don’t mind sharing. I mean, I think that people, you know, often people like yourself who have been career public servants, who aren’t used to being in the public sphere don’t talk a lot about what day-to-day life is like when you’re under that spotlight. And so, if you don’t mind, I would like to hear more about that.
VINDMAN: Sure. Of course. I could almost encapsulate it in one word, which is uncertainty. There’s been an enormous amount of uncertainty for me and my family. It’s been a struggle for all of us. I had a very successful military career that was — you know, hadn’t reached its climax yet. It was still on ascend. I have done some fantastic things. I knew where my paychecks were coming from. I had a good sense of where I would be. I had a good idea of how I would be able to contribute to our National Security. And since then, I have had to build a whole new life. You know, one chapter closed, another chapter opened. I made — I resolved for myself that I was not going to be knocked down by this. On my first day out of uniform, I kind of laid out a benchmark for what I wanted to do. I wanted to continue to contribute to National Security, advance U.S. security interests. I wanted to speak up and hold people accountable, which is what this is about, and that’s really what I’m doing. But in spite of that, there’s been an enormous amount of unpredictability. One thing that I did saddle on was committing myself to working on a degree and working on a doctorate for Johns Hopkins, to continue to develop myself, to weigh in on National Security issues. The topic at hand right now, of course, in the National Security sphere is Russia’s looming war against Ukraine, and I have been able to contribute to that discussion. And in certain ways, I think nudge actions that I think are appropriate for the U.S. government to take to avoid this kind of catastrophic war. And now, this is just another front. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the public eye. Now, I’m not going to squander that opportunity. I’m not going to, you know, remain silent when I think I could do something useful, and that’s what this is about.
MARTIN: We’ve reached out for comment from Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and Julia Hahn, as of this moment, we have not heard any response from them, have you?
VINDMAN: I have not. I think they’re, you know — I’m sure they’re receiving counsel and staying low for the time being. I think this is actually, in certain ways, indicates a — that this was the right thing to do. Because under normal circumstances, if it was just rhetorical, it was a book or some other form of criticism, they would probably be out there and, you know, spinning lies and attacking. And now, this is going to be taken into the courts. The courts will determine that — ultimately, the courts will determine that these figures and more violated the Ku Klux Klan Act that they were involved in a conspiracy to retaliate against me, to attack me and to prevent me from doing my duties and to punish me from doing my duties. And I think they recognize the reality of this and are concerned about it.
MARTIN: CNN made a request for comment also of those four — of the four. A lawyer representing Dan Scavino responded, see you in court.
VINDMAN: I look forward to that day. I very much look forward to seeing them in court and having them answer for their actions, having the vast amount of evidence of their wrong doing on the table in front of the judge and the jury, and I look forward to seeing them in court.
MARTIN: I’m happy to have the opportunity to speak with you today. I see you’re nicely attired in your, you know, civilian business suit, but do you still miss that uniform?
VINDMAN: I think you see some of the accoutrements of my military service behind me. These are part of who I am. That American flag that’s over my right shoulder flew over the U.S. embassy in Moscow when I served there between 2012 and 2015. Those colors on my left, those are my flag from when I was commander of one of the units actually that’s going out to the border of Russia right now, the Second Calgary Regiment that’s in Germany. There are only three infantry units there, there’s a one in three chance that some of the folks in my unit are now moving forward towards Poland and Romania, and I’m deeply proud of my military service. I think my military service made me who I am. It’s given me the perspective to not be bullied into fear, into cowering when attacked and to strike back and I’m very, very proud of my military service. I’m proud of the military and what it stands for. I mean, I was truly blessed to be able to serve 21 1/2 years in uniform.
MARTIN: Before I let you go, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, I just wanted to ask a couple of questions about the current situation. Some of which ties to your experience, which is, when did the political right become so enamored of Russia? I’m just sort of — how do you understand that? I mean, it just seems that your testimony, that of others, suggests that Ukraine of all of the former Soviet Republics is the one that is pursuing a democratic course?
MARTIN: And even some difficulties in sort of formulating a civil society, I mean, so did the United States when it was new. So, I’m just curious, when did the political right become so enamored of Russia to the point where there is an effort to discredit Ukraine. Do you know why? Do you have —
VINDMAN: I do know. I can tell you exactly when the political right turned away from righteousness, away from a defense of U.S. National Security, away from U.S. values, it was under the Trump administration. It was in those months in 2019 when President Trump and his corruption and his abuse of power were brought into the public eye and when President Trump started to intimidate the right and forced them to fall in behind him. Ukraine, as you pointed out, is a young democracy. It’s 30 years old. It has been struggling to overcome the legacy of 70 years of Soviet control. Before that, for a large portions of Ukraine, centuries of Russian control. And in spite of that, it’s charted its own path. The fortitude that is required to chart its own path manner, break with the almost unbreakable ties with Russia, all the economic ties, all the infrastructure ties and start to pivot towards the West and to democracy is a stunning and amazing feat. They have had issues. There are still — there were supporters, a lot of supporters for Russia, not as many as Putin claims. There were still an overwhelming minority. But they — those folks have now fallen off. They almost don’t exist. Part of it is because Russia has sectioned off the parts of Ukraine that were most ethnically Russian, most for Russian. And now, you have a much more coherent Ukraine. This is why Putin is acting. Ukraine has drifted away from the Russian sphere of influence, from Russia’s grasp and this is Vladimir Putin’s effort to pull Ukraine back in. Ultimately, I’m slightly more hopeful that all the pressure that President Biden has undertaken with his successful diplomatic track, with building cohesion amongst allies may still have an effect, but I think we shouldn’t overestimate the influence that the U.S. has on the situation or that U.S. and NATO has on the situation. This is deeply important issue to Vladimir Putin. He wants Ukraine into his — his sphere of influence. He has the military power and the wherewithal to take action, and I think it’s still likely to happen.
MARTIN: You do? You do think it’s still likely to happen?
VINDMAN: Yes, I think it’s likely to happen. It’s going to be very, very bloody. And U.S. interests — I’ll say some people don’t think there are clear U.S. interests here. There are clear U.S. interests. I laid out the values case for U.S. involvement in Ukraine. But the interest case is even more compelling. The interest case is that Ukraine is a bullwork against aggression, against authoritarianism. It’s on the frontier defending democracy. Other authoritarian regimes will certainly follow the example of Russia in this case. And more importantly, this is going to generate an enormous amount of instability on Europe’s frontiers, on Europe’s boundary, and we already see the slippery slope that I feared when I wrote about this both in the “New York Times” and the Foreign Affairs article, that we see a slippery slope. The Baltics, Poland, the U.K., have already said that they’re going to support Ukraine. We’ll see what the limits of support are. But then the Russian have to contend with this external support to their major offensive that’s getting ready to unfold. Cyber-attacks, information operations, electronic warfare is going to slip over from Ukraine. When they conduct their massive attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, when they launch their offensive, it’s going to spread to other regions. This is not going to be sterile. That’s why we should be doing everything we can to protect U.S. interests to prevent this from happening.
MARTIN: Alexander Vindman, retired army lieutenant colonel, the author of “Here, Right Matters”, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
VINDMAN: Thank you.
About This Episode EXPAND
Vladimir Chizhov, Russian ambassador to the EU, discusses escalating tensions in eastern Europe. Journalist George Packer discusses the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (Ret.) explains why he is suing Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump allies.LEARN MORE