Who is Alexander Vindman, the White House expert who testified about Trump’s Ukraine call?

USA Today Politics 1 month ago

A White House official was thrusted into the public eye after finding himself at the center of a red-hot House impeachment inquiry Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s 10-hour testimony before the House committees marked the first time lawmakers heard from someone who listened to President Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The impeachment investigation centers around the July 25 call where Trump asks Ukraine to investigate political opponent Vice President Joe Biden in return for U.S. foreign aid.

When Vindman said it was his “sacred duty” to speak up in his opening statement, everybody listened. So, who is this White House aide and why is his testimony so important to the impeachment investigation?

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman biography

Vindman was only 3 years old in 1979, when he and his two brothers, father and grandmother fled Ukraine, then a Soviet republic, for the U.S. His mother died in Ukraine before they immigrated to the U.S.

His family was highlighted in a photo essay by photographer Carol Kitman, who first spotted Vindman and his twin brother in 1980 walking hand in hand with their grandmother under elevated train tracks in Brooklyn's Little Odessa neighborhood.

Vindman and his twin also made an appearance as boys in Ken Burns' 1985 documentary "The Statue of Liberty," which explored how the landmark has become a symbol of hope and refuge for generations of immigrants.

"Upon arriving in New York City in 1979, my father worked multiple jobs to support us, all the while learning English at night," Vindman said in his prepared testimony. "He stressed to us the importance of fully integrating into our adopted country. For many years, life was quite difficult. In spite of our challenging beginnings, my family worked to build its own American dream."

He took part in the ROTC program while attending the State University of New York at Binghamton and later earned a master's degree from Harvard University in Russian, Eastern Europe and Central Asian studies. 

Earlier in his Army career, he served as an infantry officer and did tours in South Korea, Germany and Iraq. In October 2004, not long into his yearlong tour in Iraq, he was wounded by a roadside bomb and awarded the Purple Heart, according to the Defense Department. Vindman showed up to Tuesday's hearing in full uniform, including his Purple Heart ribbon, a Ranger tab and Combat Infantry Badge.

What does Vindman do at the White House?

Vindman is the Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council.

Since 2008, he's served as a foreign area officer specializing in Eurasia, leading him to stints in Kiev and Moscow. He also served as a political-military affairs officer for Russia for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He moved to the Trump White House in July 2018 after being tapped to serve on the NSC. 

His tasks consists of “developing, coordinating, and executing plans and policies to manage the full range of diplomatic, informational, military and economic national security” for the countries in his portfolio, which included Ukraine and Russia, according to his opening statement.

Apart from the controversial call, Vindman was also present in an April 21 call where Trump congratulated Zelensky on his victory. He was also tasked to attend his inauguration in May.

What did he say in his testimony?

Vindman testified Tuesday that he raised concerns twice that Trump and his European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland, inappropriately pushed Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

He told House investigators that he raised his concerns after he listened with other aides to Trump's July 25 and concluded that it was improper "to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen."

"I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine," he said.

He said he also raised concerns with the NSC's legal counsel after a July 10 meeting in which Sondland stressed the importance of having Ukraine investigate the 2016 election as well as Burisma, a company linked to the family of Biden. 

Is Alexander Vindman a Democrat?

Voting records show Vindman was previously registered as a Democrat.

Trump took to Twitter to slam Vindman as a "Never Trumper" who he was unfamiliar with. 

"Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call 'concerned' today's Never Trumper witness. Was he on the same call that I was?" Trump tweeted. "Can't be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call."

Behind the scenes, White House officials sought to downplay the issues raised by Vindman. Senior administration officials argued that his opening statement showed he had a "policy dispute" with the president and other White House officials over Ukraine aid.

Some Trump backers and conservatives questioned Vindman's loyalty because he was born in Ukraine.

Vindman "is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense," former Rep. Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican and a Trump supporter, said in a CNN interview. "I don't know about his concern (for) American policy, but his main mission was to make sure the Ukraine got those weapons. I understand it: We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from. Like me, I'm sure that Vindman has the same affinity."

Fox News's Laura Ingraham suggested that Vindman was "advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president's interest."

Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, worked with Vindman in Moscow. 

"Vindman is a patriot, who has served his country with honor both on and off the battlefield," he tweeted. "He was a first rate officer at the embassy, one of the best on the team."

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