Former White House chief of staff John Kelly said this week that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was simply doing his duty as a soldier by reporting his concerns about the phone call that was the central piece of evidence in the impeachment effort of President Donald Trump.
According to The Atlantic, Kelly spoke and answered questions from the audience at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, Wednesday night.
"He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave," Kelly said of Vindman, who until a week ago was assigned to the National Security Council, speaking up about a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in July 2019. "He went and told his boss what he just heard."
During the call, Zelenskiy told Trump he was anxious to receive $391 million in U.S. military aid. Trump then asked Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate in this year's presidential election, and his son Hunter.
On Wednesday, Kelly — a retired Marine Corps general who served as Trump's Homeland Security secretary for the first six months of his presidency before a roughly 17-month stint as White House chief of staff — said the situation changed when Trump made the Biden probe request. It was interpreted by many to be a condition of handing over the U.S. aid.
"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 added that to Vindman, hearing the purported condition put in place was comparable to hearing "an illegal order."
"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.'"
Vindman testified about his concerns during the House impeachment inquiry in November, which led to the chamber impeaching Trump on two counts. The president was later acquitted in the GOP-controlled Senate.
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