Lawsuit shows lengths Trump team went to counter first impeachment

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)

In 2019, then-President Donald Trump tried to strong-arm Ukraine’s president by withholding military aid his country needed to ward off Russian aggression. The aid wouldn’t be forthcoming unless the Ukrainian helped gin up bad publicity against Trump’s reelection opponent, Joe Biden. Trump was deservedly impeached for that appalling betrayal of a U.S. alliance.

In a potentially illuminating postscript that comes as Ukraine again dominates American headlines, the star witness from the first of Trump’s two impeachment trials, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, is suing Donald Trump Jr., Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others from Trump’s inner circle. Vindman, forced to retire from the military by a vindictive president, alleges they launched a campaign of personal destruction against him during and after his testimony — a campaign that included the leaking of classified materials.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a key witness in President Donald Trump's impeachment, will retire after more than 21 years in the U.S. military amid concerns that his future will "forever be limited" in the Army as a result of his testimony against the commander-in-chief, his lawyer said. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

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As a White House national security aide, Vindman listened to the July 2019 phone call in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy implored Trump to free up U.S. weaponry his country needed to resist Russian-backed fighters. “I would like you to do us a favor though,” Trump responded before pressing Zelenskyy to investigate the Ukraine business ties of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. This was a sitting American president compromising U.S. security for the sake of his own reelection.

Vindman, later subpoenaed by the House impeachment committee, had no choice but to testify about what he heard. Nonetheless, Trump’s team “engaged in an intentional, concerted campaign of unlawful intimidation and retaliation against (Vindman) to prevent him from and then punish him for testifying truthfully before Congress,” Vindman claims in his lawsuit.

During the testimony, a Republican staffer asked Vindman about a separate conversation he had with a Ukrainian security official, in which the official asked Vindman (who had emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine as a toddler) if he wanted to serve as Ukraine’s minister of defense. Vindman immediately reported the potentially compromising exchange to superiors, as he should properly have done. That report was classified.

Vindman’s suit alleges that the only way the Republican staffer who questioned him could possibly have known about the issue was if the White House had leaked classified information. Republicans later raised it to suggest Vindman had dual loyalties.

In what appeared to be a clearly orchestrated operation, Giuliani and others immediately picked up on that theme and began smearing the character of this military officer, who had served in war.

Ukraine’s precarious position today, with a Russian invasion looming, dramatizes just how urgent U.S. support for that country is — and just how big a betrayal of America’s own national interests Trump committed back then. Vindman’s lawsuit offers hope for at least some semblance of the justice that Senate Republicans thwarted at the time by refusing to remove Trump from office or even hold him minimally accountable.