On Friday, Purple Heart recipient Alexander Vindman was escorted out of the White House. So was his twin brother Yevgeny, a senior lawyer and ethics official.
They were given no explanation for their unceremonious ouster from the National Security Council. Of course, no explanation was necessary.
“Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth”, his lawyer, David Pressman, said. “His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful”.
I’m not sure “frightened” is the right word. “Irritated” or, better yet, “extremely annoyed” are probably better.
That’s not to say that Trump – who infamously received five deferments during the Vietnam war – is brave. It’s just to say that a man who harbors delusions of grandeur despite the seeming impossibility of thinking in terms that are any more grandiose than the office he already holds, is so clearly detached from reality, that the idea of being “frightened” by the “truth” probably doesn’t even occur to him.
Sure, Trump would be terrified if he were forced into actual combat, but we’re talking about a guy who, while in Davos last month, told the world’s foremost economic and financial luminaries that he singlehandedly ushered in an economic boom “the likes of which the world has never seen before”. And, this time, it sounded like he really believed it. It wasn’t your typical off-the-cuff Twitter boast or some stadium rally talking point aimed squarely at the MAGA faithful. He pretty obviously believes his own narrative by now.
The point is simply this: Trump doesn’t know what “the truth” is, so he can’t be frightened of it. And he is the living, breathing antithesis of “honor”.
So, with all due respect to Vindman and his lawyer, I have serious doubts about whether Trump was “frightened” by Vindman and his brother.
But he was annoyed by them, that’s for sure. And understandably so. After all, Vindman was a helluva witness for Democrats during the impeachment hearings.
Vindman’s testimony was damning in the extreme and, despite Republican efforts to smear him, was generally seen as exceedingly credible. Only Marie Yovanovitch made a more indelible impression on the public.
Vindman listened to the infamous July call between Trump and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky and came away so concerned that he alerted the NSC’s counsel. According to his account, he was later instructed to keep quiet by John Eisenberg.
He also told lawmakers during closed-toor testimony in October that Zelensky was likely prepped for the call with Trump and that “Burisma” was intentionally left out of the memorandum documenting the conversation in order, one assumes, to obscure how overt the quid pro quo really was.
Vindman was not the only casualty on Friday. Trump also dismissed EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, the man the White House initially assumed would be a “good” witness.
In late November, Sondland delivered what, by almost every account, was a devastating opening statement during hotly-anticipated public testimony before House impeachment investigators.
Sondland emerged in October as perhaps the key player in the Ukraine saga. Witness after witness suggested it was Sondland who worked directly with Trump to bridge the gap between Rudy Giuliani’s shadow campaign in the country and official US policy towards the fledgling Zelensky government. Sondland was forced to revise his closed-door testimony to lawmakers after key portions were called into question by subsequent testimony from, among others, Bill Taylor.
In his public testimony, Sondland took the opportunity to tell the country, on national television, that he was hardly the only guy “in on it”, so to speak. In fact, Sondland said, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret”. “Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’”, he asked, on America’s behalf, before responding to his own question: “The answer is yes”.
Trump subsequently claimed he barely knew Sondland, despite his having donated $1 million to the inauguration committee. It was a rather stark change of narrative for Trump, who in September referred to Sondland as a “highly respected” man.
On Friday, just hours after Vindman and his brother were escorted off the property by security officers, Sondland said this, in a statement: “I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union”.
Vindman’s attorney is confident voters understand what’s going on. “There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over [and] why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House”.
That’s true. What there is a question about, though, is whether America cares. The sad reality is that, like the president, large swaths of the voting public can no longer distinguish fact from fiction, truth from lies and right from wrong.