Vindman, who gave key impeachment testimony, 'escorted' from White House

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council who testified during the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, was escorted from the White House Friday afternoon, his lawyer said.

"LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth," his attorney David Pressman said in a statement. "The truth has cost LTC Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy."

Pressman added that, "the most powerful man in the world - buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit" had "decided to exact revenge" on Vindman.

Vindman had, as part of his duties, listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy, which was at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

The Washington Post first reported on efforts by the White House to push out Vindman, citing two people familiar with the move, as part of a broader targeting by Trump of perceived enemies in the wake of his acquittal in the Senate after a two-week trial. The Post reported that Vindman would be reassigned to a job at the Defense Department.

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In this photo posted on the U.S. Embassy Kiev Twitter account on May 31, 2019, National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman prepares to lay flowers in honor of fallen Ukrainian soldiers. (U.S. Embassy Kiev Twitter account via AP)
National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

The first witnesses who were on the July 25th phone call that’s at the center of the impeachment inquiry to publicly testify are Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer and national security council staffer, and Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer stationed in the Vice President’s office.

Appearing in uniform, Vindman expressed to lawmakers his alarm at what he described as a concerted effort by Trump’s allies to bend U.S. policy in Ukraine to personally benefit Trump.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"I was concerned by the call, what I heard was improper, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg. It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent. 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. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region."

Williams, a State Department official assigned to Mike Pence's team, testified that she found the call unusual.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) AIDE TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE, JENNIFER WILLIAMS, SAYING:

"I found the July 25th phone call unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter."

Vindman also described a meeting between Ukrainian officials and US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland and national security advisor John Bolton.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"We fully anticipated the Ukrainians would raise the issue of a meeting between the two presidents. Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short when Ambassador Sondland started to speak about the requirement that Ukraine deliver specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with President Trump. Following this meeting, there was a short debriefing during which Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance of Ukraine delivering the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Ambassador Sondland that this was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security."

Vindman, a Ukrainian-born American citizen and decorated Iraq war veteran, has been the subject of attacks by Trump’s allies, and called a Never Trumper by the president. On Tuesday, Vindman added a personal note at the end of his opening statement.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United State of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."

When questions shifted to the Republicans, ranking Republican Devin Nunes used his time to find out the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the inquiry than defending the president's alleged misdeeds.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. DEVIN NUNES, SAYING:

"Lt. Col. Vindman did you discuss the July 25th phone call with anyone outside the White House on July 25th or the 26th, and if so, with whom?"

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

"Yes, I did….an individual in the intelligence community."

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. DEVIN NUNES, SAYING:

"As you know…the intelligence community has 17 different agencies. What agency was this individual from?"

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. ADAM SCHIFF, SAYING::

“If I could interject here. We don’t want to use these proceedings…We need to protect the whistleblower. I want to make sure there is no effort to out the whistleblower throughout these proceedings.”

Nunes also pushed an unfounded theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) REP. DEVIN NUNES, SAYING:

“In these depositions and hearings Republicans have cited numerous instances of Ukraine meddling in the 2016 elections to oppose the Trump campaign."

Under questioning from the Democrats’ side, Vindman shot that down.

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL DANIEL GOLDMAN, SAYING:

“Are you also aware that Vladimir Putin had promoted this theory of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election?”

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

“I am well aware of that fact.”

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL DANIEL GOLDMAN, SAYING:

“And ultimately which country did the U.S. intelligence services determine to have interfered in the 2016?”

(SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, SAYING:

“It’s the consensus of the entire intelligence community that the Russians interfered in U.S. elections in 2016.”

More witnesses are expected to testify throughout the week.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council Director for European Affairs takes a break as he testifies during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from Jennifer Williams, adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for European and Russian affairs, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, during the third day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, who House Democrats say withheld U.S. military aid for Ukraine in exchange for Ukrainian investigations of his political rivals. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin - Pool/Getty Images)
National Security Council Director for European Affairs Alexander Vindman arrives for a closed-door deposition at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on October 29, 2019. - Vindman plans to tell Congress Tuesday that he witnessed efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate President Donald Trump's rival Joe Biden, and that he reported it as a national security risk. Vindman will be the first White House official to testify to the House impeachment inquiry that Trump and allied diplomats improperly pressured the Ukraine government to open investigations designed to help Trump politically. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council, center, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, to appear before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee on Oversight and Reform joint interview with the transcript to be part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 29: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs at the National Security Council, arrives in the Capitol Visitor Center for his deposition related to the House's impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, October 29, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images),
National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman leaves the hearing room during a break from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Vindman, who testified before the House in November under subpoena, told members of Congress he was "concerned" about what he'd heard on the call and that he felt it was "improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent."

Vindman also testified that the summary of the July 25 call was transferred to a private, more secure server “to avoid leaks” and to help “preserve the integrity of the transcript," although he added that he felt that the move was not intended as “nefarious.”

During his testimony, Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel who received a Purple Heart after he was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2004, faced repeated character attacks from several Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, including over his loyalty to the U.S.

Vindman was born in Kyiv, then part of the USSR, and fled with his family to the U.S. as a child.

Vindman is not the only administration official involved in Trump's impeachment to have had his career trajectory altered.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a central figure in the impeachment investigation who was recalled from her post last year, retired from the State Department last month. And Bill Taylor, who had replaced Yovanovitch as the top U.S diplomat in Ukraine and who also testified during the impeachment inquiry, was recalled from his post in December.

Vindman, in his opening remarks at the start of his public appearance before Congress, offered a stunningly personal message about how his family had come to America for a better life and how escaping an authoritarian regime instilled in him and his brothers a sense of duty to serve in the U.S. military.

He said that he never expected to testify about the president’s actions but he did so out of a "sense of duty" and said he recognized that his actions "would not be tolerated in many places around the world."

“In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life,” he said.

Addressing his father, Vindman concluded his statement by saying that “you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family.”

“Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth,” Vindman said.

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