February 2, 2022
Today, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman sued Donald Trump, Jr., Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and others, as well as Fox News Channel personalities, including Laura Ingraham, for obstructing an official proceeding “by intimidating and retaliating against a key witness.” The lawsuit describes an “intentional, concerted campaign of unlawful intimidation and retaliation against a sitting Director of the National Security Council and decorated military officer…to prevent him from and then punish him for testifying truthfully before Congress during impeachment proceedings against President Trump.”
Their goal, the lawsuit says, was to portray him as disloyal to the United States, a spy, and “a politically motivated ‘leftist’ within the military who was insubordinate and even broke the law.” In addition to the effect on Vindman himself, it said, the attacks “left a stain on our democracy.”
And so, on Groundhog Day, we have come full circle.
Vindman was a key witness in the first House of Representatives impeachment hearing in 2019. A Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, he had been on the July 25, 2019 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. After hearing the call, Vindman had reported to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the National Security Council, that the call was troubling, with Trump pressing Zelensky to deliver an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of potential rival Joe Biden, in exchange for promised military aid to Ukraine so it could resist Russian incursions. Eisenberg told Vindman not to tell anyone else about the conversation.
Vindman’s opening statement before Congress recalled the American dream. He explained that his father, who had brought Vindman from Ukraine when three, was afraid to have his son testify against the president. Vindman assured him it would be okay. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth,” Vindman said he told his father, “because this is America, this is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served, and here, right matters.”
After Vindman’s testimony, he was ousted from the National Security Council, and his twin brother Eugene, a senior lawyer and ethics official for the NSC who had not been involved in the impeachment hearings, was also fired, escorted off White House grounds “suddenly and without explanation,” according to Alexander’s lawyer David Pressman. The two men were fired on the same day Trump told reporters that he was “not happy” with Vindman’s testimony.
On July 8, 2020, Vindman resigned from the military after more than 21 years, citing the “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” led by the president for his decision to leave public service.
And now he is suing the allies of the former president, demanding they repair the damage they did, both to Vindman and to democracy. "The threat to our democracy came from a conspiracy among people within the highest reaches of our government and their close allies. President Trump and his aides and other close associates, including Defendants, waged a targeted campaign against Lt. Col. Vindman for upholding his oath of office and telling the truth."
“I filed this lawsuit,” he said, “because I believe in the active role all citizens must play in upholding our democracy.”
It’s an interesting moment.
The former president is still strong. His fundraising emails, full of fake promises of 700x matching and dinners with the president, might sound just like scams, but they work: he started the year with $122 million in cash. He seems to be stockpiling it for himself; the only significant expenditure he has made is $1 million to a nonprofit, the Conservative Partnership Institute.
But things are not all ducky for him, either.
That million-dollar payment to CPI is significantly higher than any other donation, and it went to CPI, where his former chief of staff Mark Meadows now works, weeks after the House created the January 6 committee, which has subpoenaed Meadows.
Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social, is supposed to go live this month, but when Business Insider reached out to Trump’s people—including to former representative Devin Nunes, who left Congress to become the CEO of Trump Media and Technology Group—to ask about it, no one responded. The investor presentation for the company was “so bad, it is laughable—literally says nothing,” one person to whom it was circulated wrote. The special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) behind Trump’s company is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Yesterday, Trump tried to take back his statement of Sunday indicating he wanted then–vice president Pence to overturn the election. He released a statement saying he only wanted Pence to send the electoral votes back to the states “for reassessment.” This, too, would have been illegal, but it is significant because it shows he recognizes that his earlier statement adds to the case against him.
At his rally in Conroe, Texas, on Saturday, Trump promised to pardon the insurrectionists if he is reelected, and today Tara Palmeri of Politico reported that Trump had considered blanket pardons of the rioters, asking advisors if he had the power and if it was a good idea. Belying the idea floated by right-wing media that the rioters were “antifa,” he asked, “Is it everybody that had a Trump sign or everybody who walked into the Capitol,” who could be pardoned. Trump also wanted to announce that he was running in 2024 even before Biden’s inauguration, hoping to frame any future prosecutions as being politically motivated.
Representative Pete Aguilar (D-CA), a member of the committee investigating the insurrection, said on CNN that Trump’s promise is “absolutely” witness tampering. He wondered what it would take for Republicans to say enough is enough. “I don’t know where the floor is on that side of the aisle,” he said.
That seems a reasonable question, as right-wing personalities are upping the ante in their political rhetoric, echoing authoritarians in their suggestion that they will use the power of the government to go after those they consider political opponents. Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, for example, has expressed interest in arresting President Biden's chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying, “[w]e are going to create criminal referrals…. There needs to be an example made of him.”
As right-wing fury seems to mount, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is quietly gathering evidence, and those testifying seem to be getting closer to the heart of the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Yesterday, yet another member of former vice president Mike Pence’s team, top aide Greg Jacob, met with the January 6 committee for more than eight and a half hours.
The leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, has appeared before the committee this week and has answered “many questions,” according to his lawyer, although he has exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination with regard to other questions.
Today, former Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Clark met with the January 6 committee for close to two hours. Clark backed Trump’s attempt to cast doubt on the election, and Trump entertained the idea of making him attorney general until Department of Justice leadership threatened to resign as a group if he did. Initially, Clark refused to answer a subpoena, and in December the committee voted to hold him in criminal contempt. The committee remained willing to talk, though, and apparently it now has.
We learned today that the committee has also subpoenaed from T-Mobile the phone records of Arizona Republican Party chair Kelli Ward and her husband, Michael Ward, both of whom signed a document falsely claiming that Trump had won Arizona’s electoral votes. The Wards filed suit in federal court today to block the subpoena, saying that because the Wards are osteopathic doctors who use their phones to talk to patients, the subpoenas violate patient-doctor privilege.
Meanwhile, the committee has put off Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s testimony while it discusses the scope of his subpoena with his lawyer.
Today, committee member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said that the committee expects to hear from Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter and White House advisor, whom the committee expects to call this week.
Raskin also said public hearings will likely be held in April. This will make them uncomfortably close to the midterm elections, but they have had to be pushed back because of obstruction by Trump’s people.
And so we are back to where we were in 2019, when Vindman first reminded us that in America, right matters. At long last, will most of us decide that it does?