Alexander Vindman, Army Officer Who Testified Against Trump, Escorted Out Of White House

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Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a star witnesses in the inquiry that led to the impeachment of President Trump, was dismissed from his post on the National Security Council and escorted from the White House Friday, according to his lawyer.

“Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth,” David Pressman, Vindman’s lawyer said in a statement. “His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.”

The Ukrainian-born officer, who came to the U.S as a childhood and received a Purple Heart for combat wounds in Iraq, testified about listening to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"I was concerned by the call, what I heard was inappropriate, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg," Vindman, who was the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told House lawmakers about the call in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

“It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent,” Vindman testified. “It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play.”

Trump and his supporters have criticized Vindman’s account of what the president terms his “perfect call” with Zelensky, which led to a whistleblower complaint, not by Vindman, that kicked off the impeachment inquiry.

Shortly before Vindman was escorted from the White House, Trump signaled to reporters that his ouster was imminent. “I’m not happy with him,” Trump said of Vindman.

Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeney, who had served as an ethics lawyer for the NSC, was also dismissed from his position Friday, Bloomberg reported.

Vindman is expected to be reassigned to the Pentagon, where officials have pledged he will not face further retaliation.

“We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday.

Vindman is not the only administration official who testified to the House inquiry to be reassigned. On Monday, Jennifer Williams, a State Department employee on Vice President Mike Pence’s staff, was granted a request to leave her rotation at the White House early. Williams, who testified alongside Vindman during the impeachment inquiry, described Trump’s call with Zelensky  “improper” and “unusual.” 

William Taylor, who served as the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and testified in the impeachment inquiry, left his position in early January.

Taylor testified about the “unusual” channel of diplomacy being carried out in Ukraine by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and further established the president’s direct involvement with pursuing a foreign investigation of Biden.

“Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine,” Taylor testified. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of [Joe] Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. envoy to the European Union, also testified in the House inquiry. He is still in office.

In a Friday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Taylor blasted critics of Vindman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

 
"It of course bothers me any time I see someone like Masha Yovanovitch or Alex Vindman unfairly attacked," Taylor told Tapper.

Trump recalled Yovanovitch from her post in Kyiv in May after complaints from Giuliani and others outside of the administration.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Like Vindman, Yovanovitch was portrayed by the president’s supporters as a “Never Trumper.”

“There's a reason why she got fired,” Rep. Devin Nunes, D-Calif., said in an interview Thursday evening. “This is one of the things we could never really get out because we couldn't bring in witnesses, but you know, we had people that we were ready to bring in that said that she was anti-Trump, espousing anti-Trump administration views while she was ambassador to Ukraine. That’s her boss.”

In an op-ed published Thursday in the Washington Post, Yovanovitch, who is now senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University, took issue with the Trump administration’s handling of diplomacy.

“This administration, through acts of omission and commission, has undermined our democratic institutions, making the public question the truth and leaving public servants without the support and example of ethical behavior that they need to do their jobs and advance U.S. interests,” Yovanovitch wrote.

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GOP SEN: PREZ CROSSED LINE — I’LL STILL ACQUIT

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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on Sunday defended his key vote to block witnesses from being called in the impeachment trial, saying President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine were “wrong” but not impeachable.

The Tennessee lawmaker told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that he will vote on Wednesday to acquit Trump, despite the president’s “inappropriate” actions and his “mistake” of echoing Russian talking points to Ukraine’s president.

“I think he shouldn’t have done it,” Alexander said of Trump conditioning U.S. military aid on Ukraine investigating political rival Joe Biden. “I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say ― improper, crossing the line.”

Alexander, who is retiring instead of seeking reelection this year, said he believes Trump’s actions were “a long way from treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors” and that American voters should decide Trump’s fate in the 2020 election.

He said Trump, if he was truly concerned about Biden, should have asked Attorney General William Barr ― not Ukraine ― to look into the matter.

Asked why he believes Trump didn’t go to Barr, Alexander said Trump “maybe didn’t know how to do it.”

“At what point, though, is he no longer new to this?” host Chuck Todd asked, noting that Republicans often defend Trump’s controversial actions by saying he’s a political outsider.

“Well, the bottom line, it’s not an excuse,” Alexander said. “He shouldn’t have done it. And I said he shouldn’t have done it.”

Todd then asked whether he’s concerned that the Senate likely acquitting Trump could encourage the president to continue seeking foreign interference.

“I don’t think so,” Alexander said. “I hope not. I mean, enduring an impeachment is something that nobody should like. Even the president said he didn’t want that on his resume. I don’t blame him. So if a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think he would think twice before he did it again.”

Todd also questioned Alexander about Trump’s peddling of Russian propaganda during his infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump had mentioned a debunked conspiracy theory pushed by the Kremlin that alleges Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. The U.S. intelligence community has repeatedly rejected the claim.

“Does it bother you that the President of the United States is reiterating Russian propaganda?” Todd asked.

Alexander said yes.

“I think that’s a mistake,” the senator continued. “I think we need to be sensitive to the fact that the Russians are out to do no good, to destabilize Western democracies, including us, and be very wary of theories that Russians come up with and peddle.”

Alexander, widely seen as one of a few swing votes, helped cinch the GOP effort to block a Democratic motion to call witnesses during the impeachment trial. He announced Thursday, after the final day of the trial’s question-and-answer portion, that he would vote against the motion because he doesn’t need any more evidence to know what Trump did.

The Senate ultimately voted 51-49 to block witnesses. Just two Republicans ― Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine ― joined Democrats in voting in favor of the motion.

Republicans have been twisting themselves into knots to justify acquitting Trump. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), during an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” danced around questions about whether Trump was “wrong” to ask Ukraine to investigate Biden.

“I think ferreting out corruption is absolutely the right thing to do,” Ernst said. “It’s probably something that I wouldn’t have done.”

Host Jake Tapper noted that Trump never mentioned the word “corruption” during his July 25 call with Zelensky. 

“If it’s not something you would have done, why wouldn’t you have done it? Because it was wrong? Because it was inappropriate?” Tapper pressed.

“I think, generally speaking, going after corruption would be the right thing to do,” Ernst said. “He did it maybe in the wrong manner. But I think he could have done it through different channels.”

‘American Dirt’ Has Us Talking. That’s a Good Thing.

Last fall, I was sent an advance copy of Jeanine Cummins’s new novel, “American Dirt,” and a request for an endorsement. As a Mexican-American woman and an immigrant, it was clear to me that I was not the intended audience for this story. And yet, I found it compelling. I noticed its shortcomings, the things she got wrong about our culture and experience, but saw past them. I felt that a book like this could complement the Latino immigrant literature that has and will continue to be written by Latino writers, myself included.

I was born in Mexico, in the troubled state of Guerrero, where the main characters of “American Dirt" are from. It was in my hometown, Iguala, where 43 college students were abducted and disappeared in 2014, so the violence rang true to me. I am a native Spanish speaker, but my own books are riddled with Spanish mistakes because I was in fifth grade when I came to the United States.

I hoped that “American Dirt” would generate more discussion about the border and the anti-immigrant mentality that has dominated our society for too long. And it is doing just that, but in an unexpected way. It is raising awareness about another kind of border — the walls that the publishing industry puts up for Latino writers.

I’m no stranger to borders. When I was nine, I left my home in Guerrero and risked my life to cross the United States-Mexico border on foot with my father and siblings. With the help of the coyote, the guide my father hired, we got past la migra, the border agents patrolling the unforgiving no man’s land between Tijuana and Chula Vista. After we crossed, the coyote drove us up Interstate 5 to our new home in Los Angeles. I remember sighing with relief, thinking the worst was behind me.

I was wrong. I learned that American society is very good at hindering its immigrant population by putting up barriers — real and metaphorical. I soon discovered there were more borders to cross — cultural, linguistic, legal, educational, economic and more. When I chose to pursue a career in writing, a field that is predominantly white, I realized that the publishing industry too had borders and people who patrol them. A 2019 survey of diversity in publishing found that 78 percent of executives, 85 percent of editors, 80 percent of critics and 80 percent of agents are white.

Once upon a time, being a border crosser was a source of shame for me. But when I got older, I realized that it was my superpower. When I began my journey toward my dream of writing professionally, I told myself, “If I could successfully cross the U.S.-Mexico border, I can cross any border!”

It took me three tries to cross that geographical border. It took me 27 attempts to get past the gatekeepers of the publishing industry who time and time again make Latino writers feel that our stories don’t matter. We are often told that there are no readers for our immigrant tales, that “these kinds” of stories about our pain and suffering don’t sell well, that immigrant stories have been told enough times and why can’t we write something new and different, something more marketable?

After 26 rejections, I finally got across the publishing border because an African-American editor felt that my novel about a Mexican immigrant girl was worthy of being read, that my voice deserved to be heard. She gave me a $20,000 book deal and her blessing.

I considered myself lucky. There are so many more Latino writers who never get across — whose writing dreams perish in the unwelcoming literary landscape.

For the last 13 years, I’ve traveled the country talking about my immigrant experience. On stages across the United States, I bare my soul and relive the trauma of moments I’d rather forget, to help people understand that immigration is not a crime but an act of survival, that immigrants are not criminals but human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.

Sometimes, my words help open minds and hearts. Other times, they don’t. Last week, The Moth Radio Hour aired my story about a chance encounter on an airplane with a Guatemalan asylum-seeker. An email later appeared in my inbox, and when I read it, I thought of “American Dirt” and its intended white audience:

You are an excellent speaker and clearly very sincere. However, I and many others completely disagree with your point of view. Illegals in the country, that is adults that came into the USA without proper permission should all be deported as soon as practicable and there never should be any amnesty in the future for anybody [shouldn’t have happened in the past eather] the young man you talked about should have been removed and sent back to where he came from, I do not want him here in my country. and no Dreamers that came here illegally should never be allowed to be citizens. And if it was up to me their children would not be alow to become citizens ether.

Maybe I am being naïve in thinking that this man and others like him might be more willing to show compassion toward immigrants if they heard it from someone other than a first or second generation immigrant. But after having spent my entire writing career advocating immigrant rights, I appreciate when another writer joins the fight. We need all the voices we can get, within and outside our community — perhaps especially from outside our community. I had hoped Ms. Cummins’s words would germinate in the toxic American dirt where my own words, and those of other Latino writers, have often failed to take root.

When I read “American Dirt,” I didn’t know the back story — the bidding war, the seven-figure advance, the proclamation that this was the immigration book of its time. When I found out, I confess it offended me and hurt me. I felt undervalued and deceived. The publishing industry had changed its opinion of Mexican immigrant stories — but not until it was someone from outside our community who had written one. I had seen Ms. Cummins as a writer who could speak with us, not for us. Instead, the publishing machine decided to put her book on a pedestal.

It is unfortunate that the publisher canceled the author’s future book events. That denies audiences across the country the opportunity to participate in face-to-face discussions with Ms. Cummins about the issues that are being raised around cultural appropriation and who gets to tell our stories. The reasons the publisher cited for the cancellation — “safety concerns” — and their dismissal of the legitimate concerns raised as “vitriolic rancor,” further denigrates the Latino community. Now is not the time to shut down conversations, but to encourage speaking out and listening to one another.

To me the issue is neither with the book nor its author, but rather with those institutions that silence some voices while elevating others. One positive outcome is that publishers have shown they are willing to pay top dollar and use the full strength of their marketing machine to promote the immigrant experience. They can’t back away from that now. Immigrant-written stories deserve the same treatment.

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