Firing Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, and his twin brother Yevgeny, an NSC lawyer, is just the start of a promised restructuring and a rebuilding of the National Security Council.
Last September, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien pledged to drastically downsize what he called the “bloated” NSC staff, so it is encouraging to see that some of that “bloat” was just escorted out of the White House on Friday. The swelling of the NSC ranks was real, and Obama was to blame. During the George W. Bush administration, there were 100 policy professionals working in the NSC under Condoleezza Rice — but the number ballooned to 236 under President Obama.
President Trump should have demanded that the NSC be streamlined in 2016, but he has been poorly served by the council and was undermined by a few too many Vindmans. O’Brien’s goal is to bring the NSC down to fewer than 120 policy staffers. But his real goal should be to retain only those whose first priorities are to truly serve the president. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is not one of those.
Like several of those testifying at the impeachment hearings against Trump, Vindman’s allegiance to Ukraine was clear. During the preliminary televised hearings, Vindman claimed that in the spring of 2019 he became aware of what he called “outside influencers” promoting what he called a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with what he believed were “the consensus views of the interagency.” He stated that he believed that what he called a “false” narrative that suggested that Ukrainian government officials attempted to derail Trump’s candidacy in 2016 was “harmful to U.S. government policy … and undermined U.S. government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.”
In his testimony against the president, Vindman said that “a strong and independent Ukraine is critical to U.S. national security interests because Ukraine is a frontline state and a bulwark against Russian aggression.” And he was hostile to anyone who did not agree.
This ignored the fact that even Politico reported in January 2017 that Ukrainian officials tried to undermine Trump in the 2016 election by publicly disseminating documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggesting that they were investigating the matter. It was hardly the “false narrative” that Vindman tried to claim. Politico also reported that Ukraine helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers.
Identifying yet another Ukrainian American, Alexandra Chalupa, as an opposition researcher hired to find damaging information on Trump, Politico reported that Chalupa was working on Hillary Clinton’s behalf in the 2016 election. Chalupa had worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Clinton administration. Later, she worked as a consultant for the Democratic National Committee, where she earned $412,000, according to Federal Election Commission records. A daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Chalupa helped to bring Paul Manafort down.
In interviews with Politico reporters, Chalupa claimed that she developed a network of sources in Kiev and Washington, including investigative journalists, government officials in the NSC, and private intelligence operatives, and shared her findings with officials from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign. She was a frequent visitor for meetings and events at the White House as a guest of alleged whistleblower Eric Ciaramella, another former NSC staffer. She also visited the White House with Ukrainian lobbyists seeking aid from Obama. Chalupa also admitted that the Ukrainian embassy worked directly with reporters digging for Trump–Russia ties.
It is no surprise that President Donald Trump would be skeptical about Ukraine. He knows that the Ukrainian embassy tried to undermine him in 2016. But most people will never understand the role Chalupa and Ciaramella played in all of this because House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and the Democrats would not allow her to be called as a witness in the impeachment inquiry — despite a request by the Republicans.
Vindman refuses to acknowledge any of this — continuing to claim it is a “false narrative.” Like Chalupa, Vindman loves Ukraine. A Ukrainian American, Vindman is the son of Ukrainian immigrants. As a child, Vindman fled with his father and two brothers from the Soviet Union to the United States. And, although no one is accusing Vindman of being the whistleblower who brought the issue of what he has claimed was the president’s “demand” for an investigation into corruption in order to receive United States aid, it has been suggested that Vindman is responsible for feeding the information to the whistleblower.
In his own testimony on November 19, Vindman admitted that he was so concerned about the telephone conversation between Trump and the Ukraine President Zelensky that he told two people about the president’s demands in the telephone call. Stating that both of these individuals were “cleared U. S. government officials, with appropriate need to know,” Vindman named one of them, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent. But he refused to identify the other person — claiming that he had been advised by counsel “not to answer specific questions about members of the intelligence community.” Pressed by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Vindman continued to refuse to disclose the name of the person he told about the president’s call, and Schiff interrupted to say that Vindman was not allowed to say anything that could reveal the identity of the whistleblower.
This exchange suggests that Vindman was likely the source — even though both he and Schiff continue to claim that they do not know the identity of the whistleblower. In his opening statements in his testimony against the president, Vindman pronounced, “I am a patriot.” But undermining a sitting president is not patriotic.