Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who likely set impeachment in motion, recently declared himself a "never-Trumper" in an interview with NBC News — though he claims it's a newfound faith, and with some irony is blasting the White House for a leak.
Readers of "Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump" will find the Army officer and National Security Council official was almost certainly the source to the anonymous whistleblower (named in the book). Further, the book details how Vindman also had trouble with the notion that a duly elected president sets foreign policy.
"I think it is appropriate to question his role. You don't question his service. We thank him for his service to the nation and his service in uniform," Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in an interview for the book released last month. "But it is appropriate to question his testimony and his participation in this. We have finished this entire thing, and no one knows yet who is the whistleblower."
Indeed, during his House Intelligence Committee testimony, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) asked, "Lt. Colonel Vindman, did you discuss the July 25 phone call with anyone outside the White House on July 25 or the 26, and if so, with whom?"
Vindman answered: "I spoke to two individuals with regards to providing some sort of readout of the call."
Nunes asked the obvious follow-up question, and Vindman responded, "Department of State, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who is responsible for the portfolio of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and an individual in the intelligence community."
Nunes, the committee's ranking Republican, asked for the intelligence agency before committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) cut him off. "I want to make sure there is no effort to out the whistleblower," Schiff said.
The oddity was that Schiff and Vindman professed they did not know who the whistleblower was. Yet, Schiff feared Vindman would reveal the identity of someone the lieutenant colonel didn't know.
"When you watched the testimony in the House, it was interesting to see how Adam Schiff tried to block Alexander Vindman from answering questions," Blackburn said to me. "He admitted that he had talked to people outside of the White House. And, then Schiff would not allow him to answer who those individuals were."
Based on Vindman's testimony, it was fairly clear the whistleblower either got the information from Vindman or someone who talked to Vindman about the July 25, 2019, call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
So it's an odd twist that during his NBC News interview, Vindman accused the White House of leaking information to congressional Republicans about the Ukrainian government offering him a job as the country's defense minister.
During the same interview aired Monday, Vindman said of the Trump-Zelensky conversation, "I suspected, as soon as I heard the call, that if this became public that the president would be impeached." What a coincidence that it became public after Vindman talked to someone in the intelligence community who happens to be as anonymous as the whistleblower.
Vindman added to NBC, "It seemed wrong, it seemed corrupt, and frankly I suspect that it could have been criminal." Even this was a departure from his House testimony, where he declined to say the call constituted bribery. This came as Democrats tried to use bribery in rhetoric before realizing they had too weak a case when it wasn't clear if Trump was supposedly bribing Zelensky or Zelensky was supposedly bribing Trump.
Before Vindman's public testimony where he nearly admitted to informing the whistleblower, it was Vindman's secret testimony in the SCIF that Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican and certainly no Trump loyalist, said "crystalized" the impeachment debate for him.
"I couldn't look away" from the Vindman SCIF testimony, Massie recalled in an interview for "Abuse of Power."
"Lt. Col. Vindman could never allow the elected government to get in the way of his policy goals," Massie recalled. "He was agitated that the president didn't follow his talking points."
Vindman told the three House committees behind closed doors he began to get uncomfortable when Trump veered from talking points.
"I started to get, I guess — this was not in the preparational material that I had offered," Vindman said.
Vindman went on to say, according to the transcript of the SCIF testimony, "he's the president of the United States, he can sets [sic] the policy — but I kind of saw increasing risk as we moved on."
Massie said he heard Vindman say, "kind of sets the policy," not "can sets the policy." That makes a big difference to a constitutionalist like Massie, who added, "I was certain I heard 'kind of.' They could have screwed it up. I'm not certain they didn't change it deliberately." Either way, Massie's memory would be grammatically correct.
Vindman's transparent focus on talking points were ultimately telling of what only the third presidential impeachment in American history really boiled down to — a policy disagreement.
"This is why the whole thing is a policy difference. He was upset with the president, that the president had twice chosen to not follow his talking points," Blackburn said of Vindman. "This is something that upset him. And the commander-in-chief has the ability to set foreign policy."