The former White House chief of staff said Vindman’s decision to escalate his concerns about Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president was in line with military training.
Former White House chief of staff John Kelly said Wednesday that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was following his military training when he chose to report President Donald Trump’s now infamous July phone call with the president of Ukraine.
That decision last summer ultimately led to the army officer’s ouster from a position with the National Security Council earlier this week, which in turn has stoked fears of a post-impeachment retribution campaign by the president.
“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly said at an event at Drew University in New Jersey, according to The Atlantic. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”
Kelly, who served as Trump’s most senior aide from July 2017 until early last year, said Vindman’s decision to escalate his concerns about the call were in line with the protocol of the armed forces.
“We teach them, Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss,” Kelly said Wednesday of Vindman’s flagging of the call, during which Trump pressured Zelensky to open foreign probes into his domestic political rivals.
Kelly also appeared to affirm that he believed Trump did indeed condition hundreds of millions of dollars in vital military aid to Ukraine on Zelensky’s agreement to assist in the investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against …. the Russians,” Kelly said. “And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that’s what that guy [Vindman] was most interested in.”
Kelly’s comments Wednesday regarding Vindman mark his most forceful repudiation yet of Trump’s conduct during the Ukraine scandal, which resulted in his impeachment by the House in December and acquittal in a Senate trial earlier this month.
The former chief of staff expressed disagreement in his Wednesday night remarks with Trump over a variety of other topics, touching on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the administration’s proposed border wall, and rhetoric related to migrants and the media during a 75-minute speech and question-and-answer session.
Kelly was also critical of Trump’s intervention in November in the cases of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher and two more service members implicated in war crimes — an episode which resulted in former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer being pushed out of the administration.
“The idea that the commander-in-chief intervened there, in my opinion, was exactly the wrong thing to do,” Kelly said of the Gallagher case. “Had I been there, I think I could have prevented it.”
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