BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

VINDMAN - "HERE,RIGHT MATTERS"

December 14, 2021 Dana Lewis Season 4 Episode 17
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
VINDMAN - "HERE,RIGHT MATTERS"
Show Notes Transcript

On this Back Story Host Dana Lewis talks to Alexander Vindman, the former Lt. Col. who testified against former President Trump, in his House impeachment. 

Vindman talks of Trumps corrupt White House, the insurrection at the Capitol, and even Ukraine and Russia, predicting war is likely in Europe because Putin will likely not be deterred by President Bidens warnings of economic sanctions. 


Speaker 1:

You've been quoted as saying president Trump was a vile man who hurt the us more than any other leader in recent history, accurate quote.

Speaker 2:

I think that's pretty accurate. I mean, you could , uh , on, on the margins, but he's been pretty awful to , uh , us national security.

Speaker 1:

How hi everyone. And welcome to another addition of backstory. I'm Dana Lewis on this edition , I talked to Alexander Finman . He was the Lieutenant Colonel in the NSC who was on the famous call when former president Trump tried to interfere in Ukraine to force an investigation of Joe Biden. Vin's testimony provided evidence resulted in a charge of abuse power in the impeachment of Trump. As you're about to hear Finman has a lot to say about Trump's presidency, about the insurrection and even the recent criminal contempt charge against former white house chief of staff, Mark Meadows. And he will tell us his view that military action with Russia attacking Ukraine seems most likely now, and what Biden could have done and should do to head it off. All right , Alexander Vinn is a retired us army Lieutenant Colonel, who was the director of your affairs for the United States national security council until he was reassigned , uh , in February of 2020. And he joins me now from the us Alexander, where are you? By the way,

Speaker 2:

I'm still in Northern Virginia , uh , where we settled actually coming back from Moscow and 2015 , you've

Speaker 1:

Been quoted as saying president Trump was a vile man who hurt the us more than any other leader in recent history, accurate quote.

Speaker 2:

I think that's pretty accurate. I mean, you could , uh , on, on the margins, but he's been pretty awful to , uh , us national security. Why would you say that natural interest ? Why? Because probably no other president has gone so far to undermine the very , uh , foundation of us strength, which is the unity of the population he has . He has pander to his base. He has , um, spread lies about , uh , the pandemic about how evil , uh, one party , uh, in the , in our two party system is he's , um , an enormous way to demonize our , uh , not , uh , large swaths of our population, as well as undermine , um , our electoral system and our democracy. He's , uh , pander to , uh , our adversaries and drawn false, false between the way they operate the latter of mayor Putin , uh , China, and the way this country operates. I, I have , um, I love the United States and I defend it and he attacks it

Speaker 1:

The January 6th committee. I just have to ask you, because it's, it's on all of the news headlines as we do this interview that they have held former chief of staff, Mark Meadows in criminal contempt. I mean, what do you make of that? Is this process in Washington now investigating what many call an insurrection is that justice being sought or is that political retribution?

Speaker 2:

You know, it's interesting that , uh , as a diplomat overseas , you, you're careful to counsel other nations about , uh, what could be perceived as political retribution. You want , uh , the peaceful transition of power, but there's also a fundamental notion to , to the , uh , that no one is above the law. Everyone is subject to the law in the United States and , uh , in order for our country to be able to , uh , function properly, everybody, including the president and his , um, his Codery , his proxies need to be held accountable. And that's what's going on now. I , I had this interesting conversation with , uh, Arnold Schwartz Neer or this past summer and part of the conversation. He, he espoused

Speaker 1:

You , you just , you hang out with Arnold sometime .

Speaker 2:

Well, just it's, it was something that made, made the , uh , news here in the us because of comment he made about , uh , with , um, you know, citizenry comes responsibility. Yeah ,

Speaker 1:

He's made some amazing sort interrupt, but he's made some amazing video about coming to the United States and the values of America. And I mean, he's, that's how he connected know he's, he's, he's got a big check , uh, next to his name in my book. I think he's made some incredible that's

Speaker 2:

How Dana that's how we connected actually through , uh , my board position on the renewed democracy initiative. So he espoused , uh , you know, this is, he made some and beautiful videos about his love of country . I completely agree with that. And he was of extremely strong proponent of , uh, the fact that this country is stronger when we're, when we're together. And my point, my counterpoint was that's very true. I also believe in the same kind of notion that you , you have about the U uniqueness, the exceptionalism of the United States, but we are also in this moment where accountability is important. We have an open wound , uh , from four years of, of , uh , Trump administration that was in would immensely corrupt that sought to advance , uh , president Trump's interests, unilateral interests, as opposed to national interests. And there has to be accountability. Otherwise, the next time we face is similar threat from a more competent president. Uh, we will be, you know, we'll be in , in more dire straits,

Speaker 1:

I think more dire straits are ahead, frankly, because this doesn't appear to be , uh , a reconciliation moment, but you were the whistleblower on Trump's call to Ukraine's president Zelensky were you actually the

Speaker 2:

Phone line? Yes. And even the , the , the idea of whistleblower is kind of maybe a little bit of a stretch. I reported through , uh , proper channels in internal to the, the , uh , to the white house, as opposed to what most people identify whistleblowers is doing is , you know, going outside of proper channels and going to like a press and so forth. But yes, that's that's right.

Speaker 1:

So why did you do it then?

Speaker 2:

Sure. So , uh , what , what I saw unfolding was a slow moving train wreck that maybe in certain ways, I was late to recognize. I certainly in, in , uh , by somewhere along the, the six month kind of , uh , process, I recognized that it was the president seeking to , um, to better position himself for a 20, 22 election campaign and , uh, and attack his , uh , his principal rival. He himself identified , uh , vice president Biden. Now president Biden as his principal rival. So at the time

Speaker 1:

Didn't really jump out at you at you then. I mean, you're a Lieutenant Colonel, you're a pretty smart guy, but you were on the call to do what, and suddenly, suddenly you were reporting your own president for

Speaker 2:

Misconduct. Dana , that's actually not what ended up happening. If so, what, what ended up happening is when Marie Ivanovich, the ambassador was removed, all it seemed like was that she was , was the am attacked ambassador to Ukraine. Yeah. And it was unclear why, but that was in , uh, first March. And then April by may, it became absolutely clear that, you know, Rudy Giuliani maybe acting on his own in , in support of his client at the time, that was unclear was , was casting a shadow over our, our , uh , relationship with Ukraine and , uh , saying nasty things about Yvan by the time we get to late may and June, and you start having specific effects on our policy, then that's actually, when we, when it became pretty troubling, when there was a hold on security assistance that emerged out of, out of , uh, you know, not any, anything that we really understood out of OMB that doesn't really have a national security stake per se. They just, you know, they , they control the budget strings. And then by the time we get to , um , early July, I started a process called , uh , I mean, I, I had been con running a , uh , a coordination effort with the entire government for , for months at that point initially to put together a plan to , uh , you know , help develop our strategy for Ukraine. But by the time we get to July, I , I went in a different direction. I went to try to figure out what was going on, why we had all this , uh , uh , all these different threads coming together that were at odds with what the rest of it did , agency, all the senior leaders, much more senior than me thought was the right thing to do with Ukraine. So on July 10th , just , just ,

Speaker 1:

Just , just hang on a minute . Cause a lot of people that don't follow this, right? So essentially, I mean, the us at that point is trying to support Ukraine. That's defending itself from Russia and, and Russian back to rebels and suddenly military assistants essentially in training is being withheld by president Trump in the white house.

Speaker 2:

Well , that was actually not entirely clear either. Although frankly, I, I had heard from , uh , OMB staff that this had come from the white house or from the president's , um , uh , chief of staff. I found it, I found it hard kind of hard to fathom that the president was gonna do that. And I actually probably, you know, didn't do myself a great deal of, of , uh , help by saying, well, I'm gonna need more than just a staffer's word on this. So , uh, the , what I ended up doing is I ran , ran this process , uh , up through the deputies , uh , for all the departments at agencies simultaneously. We had these calls coming together and these meetings with the , the Ukrainians and on the July 10th, two weeks before when the Ukrainian national security , uh , advisor was in town, one of , um , president Trump's close politic , uh , Gordon, Sondland proposed this, this , uh , quid pro quo as , as it's known a , uh , investigation to the Bidens in, in return for a white house visit and then kind of normalization of relations, including lifting the hold and that he said, you know, that this was troubling because this directly implicated , uh, uh , the upcoming coming election. So that was the first time I courted something. But at the time I said it was , was that,

Speaker 1:

Was that a , oh my God moment. But suspicions over months realized by a clear declaration that if you don't do us , Trump do the Trump white house of political favor here. We're not gonna supply weapons in, in the national security interest of America.

Speaker 2:

Sure. That's ex well , so that's exactly how I treated it . And I went to talk to the senior of , of officials in the , uh , senior legal officials. This simultaneously turned out that Fiona hill and my boss had a conversation with , uh , John Bolton, the , uh , the president's national security advisor. And that's the one where he called it, this whole thing , uh , um , um , a drug deal, the famous drug deal line. And then really by the time we get to the 25th, the only piece that was missing was whether president Trump was behind this, or there were , were , people were acting on his behalf trying to ingratiate themselves. And the president went on the record and said , said, you know, he wanted a favor from the Ukrainians , uh , and investigation. And , uh , I did, I followed through on like what I did before my, you know, principled position about nobody being above the law, the president , uh, you know, trying to undermine what he had himself indicated was his policy when he signed the national security strategy a couple years before that , you know, laid out a way of thinking about these, these issues that were operating within the context of , and then , uh, you know, doing this to undermine election. So all this was pretty, pretty , um , disturbing. So

Speaker 1:

Anything seemed to go under Trump, I mean, and , um, you know, no red lines, no ethical red lines, and then maybe no legal red either . I mean, it , it is a presidency like no other,

Speaker 2:

Would you say, I think that's right. I mean, I was just thinking this morning actually about like, you know, Richard Nixon, who , uh , in terms of he , he pales in comparison to , in certain regards, it's pretty, pretty , uh , VI attack on the , on our democracy by spying on, on , on , on opposition party. But that's not where , um, Donald Trump's kind of , um, aims end, he's willing to undermine the , this nation. He's willing to drive a hyper-partisanship , uh, that is tearing this country apart because he sees profit in it. I'm not even sure if he sees a second term, he sees profit in it. He could raise money off of it. And that to me is, is, is vile as you pointed out.

Speaker 1:

So the January 6th committee, these revelations that Mark Meadows is getting the texts from among others, Donald Trump Jr . From hosts at Fox news saying, look that riot, I mean, you gotta call it off. And he seems to stand back and watch and watch it unfold with some glee. Uh , that's pretty, pretty horrific implication of a , at the American prison .

Speaker 2:

All right . Well, so he , uh , you know, he's been described by his , uh , niece as a narcissist and , uh, you know , um, uh, sociopath. So in that kind of context, it kind of makes sense. He's only concerned about his own interests, not about the interests of the country and what the, the implications are that our capital was attacked. Uh , you know, and that's unfortunately who we elected once to president , uh, and still has a , a decent following, I would say,

Speaker 1:

I guess, Fox news, wasn't a big fan of yours. And I suppose they haven't been doing lengthy interviews with you .

Speaker 2:

I , I , I guess not , I , I mean, they seem to be afraid to ask the hard questions that you're are willing to do .

Speaker 1:

So what do you make of the fact they're on there texting the president about his legacy and how they should behave and would , would you, I would expect that in, I mean, I've spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe as well. Yeah . I would expect that in Russia and I would expect it maybe in Ukraine and elsewhere. Yeah . I , I wouldn't expect it in one of the greatest democracies.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . You know , uh , it's interesting. This there's a to , to in setting aside like the broader conversation about a freedom of speech , uh, and I believe in, in freedom of speech , uh, there is a pernicious threat coming from a , um , major news platform that is willing to say and do anything , uh, completely unaccountable at odds with the facts. And we a narrative that is so destructive, I think , uh, you know, in order for, for , uh , president Trump to even get purchase with his ideas, he needed the ripe environment established by Fox news. And that's, what's so harmful. That's why I think, you know, I wrote a piece for Lawfare back in March of this year. I wanna say about litigation to pin back , um , the , these most egregious , uh , efforts by Fox news. Uh , you , you hit 'em in , in their pocketbook when they lie and just not enough because they're so large amount of people are , are willing to hold 'em accountable, but that's exactly what's required. Let's

Speaker 1:

Talk about Ukraine for a minute before I run out of time with you, how would you assess what's going on right now? Uh, with Russian troops, you know, more than a hundred thousand of them , uh, on the, on the border while president Putin denies that there's any kind of invasion and planned, and that's what he denied in 2014, when they went into crimee , how serious do you think the situation is? And, and how should we be responding to it?

Speaker 2:

This is a VA very dangerous moment. Uh , I think it's a coin flip on whether this becomes the largest military offensive in Europe since world war II. Uh, I, I am actually leaning towards the fact that the only way this does get resolved is with , uh , some sort of military confrontation. And that's because , uh, Putin himself has also acted with impunity. The west has not countered , uh , a , a lot of his malign action and his , um , uh , use of the military as an instrument to achieve his political objectives. And now he thinks he could do the same. He perceives , uh , opportunity in a fractured west. I think I mentioned on one of the, the programs that if we didn't have an insurrection in January, I don't think , uh , Putin would be considering this operation that he's, he's getting ready to execute. Uh, I think he sees weakness internally in the us distraction with hyperfocused on China seems between the us and, and , uh , our European allies and then a deep op , uh , need to act because he sees Ukraine slipping through his fingers. So it's the need and the opportunity that's driving this and diplomacy is unlikely to resolve this because even if he's able , but then you're saying

Speaker 1:

That president Biden failed in his phone call in his video call with president Putin, because if you are leaning towards, this is gonna result in military confrontation, then president Biden's threats of, you know, nuclear style, economic sanctions, then yeah . Just didn't cross

Speaker 2:

The line . Well , I , I actually wrote a piece on this for New York times. I think it , the call went the call and that day as a , as a kind of a , a point in time <affirmative> went textbook. But then the next day you had , uh , um, you had a GAFE by , uh , president Biden in which he basically indicated that us interests ended at NATOs borders. He didn't say that our legal obligations ended at NATO's borders. He said our interests and our values ended . And that's a , a , not a very good message to send to , to , to president Putin. I think what was, what is going , going to be required. And we've had some kind of , uh , prog it's , it's been iterative, it's been inconsistent. The G seven statement from the foreign ministers is , has been solid piece of work, but it's, we need to be more consistent. We need to be more synchronized. And the things that I think at minimum, there's more, but the things that are gonna be important are that , you know, sanctions, significant sanctions, impactful sanctions. I think we need to consi , uh , reassure allies that NATO , uh , NATO article five holds. And that means posture changes in Europe. We probably need an outer cycle deployment, a large one to Europe to indicate that this is what's going to happen. If Russian invades U uh , the us is going to have to, you know, surge back forces to Europe, we need to arm the Ukrainians because although that's not gonna be definitive, those tactical capabilities are not gonna be definitive in changing , uh , the strategic , uh, uh , perspectives or the strategic , um, calculus of, of Putin that's going to be is still gonna be important in, in terms of changing the kind of the mil , some of the military calculus. So that's the defense , that's no

Speaker 1:

Sympathy. No , um, no , no, no sympathy with president Putin when he says, give us guarantees that NATO expansion ends and, and then there's no military

Speaker 2:

Confrontation. I don't think it's about NATO expansion. I don't, I think it's about Ukraine. NATO expansion is a , uh, NATO expansion is a factor in, in maybe some small way. And I think it's a secondary objective that he, he probably can do. Maybe , uh , uh , negotiations could be an off-ramp and face saving measure . I talked about the pressure track. I mean, all the stuff that I laid out in the , in the previous , uh , uh , on my previous point is, is on one side of the equation. The other one is engagement. We do need to engage about mutual security concerns, mutual security risks. They're not unilateral, they're not rushes concerns about NATO expansion. It's also about the militarization of, of Russia's Western border that we need to talk about. So I think we need to have a holistic conversation and , uh, sympathy. I'm not sure if I have that much sympathy for him. He's the one that has precipitated the, the , um , militarization of the, of, of NATOs flank. Do you , by his military aggression ,

Speaker 1:

Do you worry about an article five where , okay . America is not gonna pour troops into Ukraine and fight Russians that may push further into Ukraine, but you have some very passionate BTIC countries , uh, you know, Lavia, Lithuania, Estonia , uh , Poland, who may physically come to the aid yeah . Of Ukraine. And suddenly if Russia attacks them, then you do have an article five situation because they're members of Maine ,

Speaker 2:

Or we should , uh , the us should be mindful of that. But I think , um, you know, people talk, I think about risks in terms of short term , immediate crisis risks. That's true, but we should also be a little bit more strategic in our calculation of risks. It's just, what's going on now. So there's crisis management going on now, but we also need to mitigate the medium and long term risks. And if we back down here, all we actually do and , uh , back down is not the right term. If we are lack, resolve in defending our values and our interests in this manner here, then we're increase seeing the probability of a major confrontation with Russia down the road, because this is not the end of Russia's aggression. It's not gonna be like, okay, we've secured our interest in Ukraine. They're gonna end there. They have other aspirations. They have aspirations to, for a bigger role in the international system, they have aspirations to upend the international system that hasn't served them. So all we're doing is we're, we're, we're buying down risk now and increasing it in long term . We should be thoughtful of that. And we should be thinking about the , the spectrum of risk. I know we're

Speaker 1:

At a time last question, it's not a tough one. How's your dad, because I watched the 60 minutes interview that he did, and he took you and both you and your brother, and then turned back to the camera. And he said, I like these boys. And , uh , I , I , I , I like

Speaker 2:

Your dad. Yeah. He's, he's a pretty awesome guy. Uh, you know, he's, he's lived an amazing life. He's 89 turning 90 next June. And , uh, you know, he's kind of been our , um , in , in my book, I talk about, you know, how important a role he's played on, on , uh , my moral compass, my ethics and values, and , uh , what I learned from him, you know , both firsthand and kind of from the genetics of my family , uh, he's pretty, he's doing well. He's, you know, mobile out and about walking, stuff like that. We're actually gonna see him for new year , new year's year . Um , but , uh, he's, he's in an important figure in our , our , our life. And that's why I had that whole kind of line about , uh, talking to him and putting his mind at ease, Alex,

Speaker 1:

The , the book is

Speaker 2:

Called here . Right . Matters. Awesome. It's I think it's, yeah, it's right over my shoulder , uh, over there that stack I'll ,

Speaker 1:

I'll get it and I'll read it and I , to hope other people do too. Alexander. Finman great to talk to

Speaker 2:

And great to meet you. Yeah , it was good talking to you and I appreciate the tough questions really. I do. Thank you, Dana . I was going easy on you. Uh , we could make him tough for next time. Next time . Next time ,

Speaker 1:

Alexander Finman wrote in his book, quote , I've come to realize that the system worked largely as it was supposed to good actors, did their duty obeyed their oaths and defended the constitution. But as we've discussed other backstory, the bad actors are still at work in America. And the us democracy still threatened by self-serving extremists in media and in politics and those duped and misled by their misinformation. Gotta hope that there are more people like in who ultimately had to resign from a military that should have supported him more than it did. I'm Dana Lewis . Thanks for listening to backstory. Please share this podcast and I'll talk to you again soon.

Speaker 3:

And I .