Who Is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman?
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Who is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman? Well, here's a few things to know. He works at the White House as a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He heard the call on July 25 between President Trump and President Zelenskiy of Ukraine. He's active-duty Army. And today he has testified in the impeachment inquiry underway on Capitol Hill. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here to tell us more.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So this is not a household name, Alexander Vindman. I suspect most people had never heard of him until this week. What should we know about him?
MYRE: Well, he's got this fascinating personal history. He was born in Ukraine in the mid-1970s, when it was part of the Soviet Union. And he has an identical twin, and we'll have more on him in a moment.
MYRE: Their mother died when they were young, and the father brought the twins and an older brother to New York when Vindman was 3. They settled in Brighton Beach, which is also called Little Odessa because of all the Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, many of them Jewish, like the Vindmans. After college, he joins the military. He is sent to Iraq at a time of heavy fighting, and he's wounded in a roadside bomb and receives a Purple Heart for this. He speaks Russian and Ukrainian. He's served at U.S. embassies in Ukraine and Russia. He has a master's degree from Harvard and became a Russian-East European expert at the Pentagon.
KELLY: OK, so an accomplished guy. Let me steer as to why we're talking about him, which is his role at the White House and how he came to listen to this July 25 phone call between the two presidents.
MYRE: Right. So last year, he's asked to serve on the National Security Council - very common for military, State Department, CIA people to go there on a temporary assignment. In his opening statement on Capitol Hill today, he said that this spring, he was troubled by what he called a false narrative about Ukraine, and he cites a number of developments, specifically this July 25 call. He says he was listening in the situation room, and he writes in his prepared testimony, quote, "I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen."
KELLY: What did he do with that concern?
MYRE: Well, he wanted to raise it, and he did have a confidant at the National Security Council he could turn to - Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, his identical twin brother.
KELLY: Oh, wow.
MYRE: That's right. They both work in the NSC in the West Wing of the White House. His brother is a lawyer who deals with ethics questions. And Alexander Vindman raised this with the NSC's top lawyer. He said he'd often been encouraged to express his views and share his concern but was very proper about it, said it had to go through the chain of command through the proper authorities. He stresses he's not the whistleblower, but clearly, he's been in the middle of these Ukrainian discussions for the past year.
KELLY: Let me turn you to some of the criticism that is starting to circulate. The president's supporters are seeking to undermine testimony that he may be delivering at Capitol Hill. What are some of the doubts that they are trying to raise here?
MYRE: So some Republicans are suggesting that he's more loyal to Ukraine than to the United States. Here's Sean Duffy, an ex-Republican congressman from Wisconsin, speaking about Vindman on CNN today.
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SEAN DUFFY: It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know if he's concerned about American policy, but his main mission was to make sure that the Ukraine got those weapons. I understand that. We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from.
MYRE: So raising this question of loyalty - now others, like the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, say he just thinks Vindman is wrong about his interpretation of events, and then others, like Republican Liz Cheney, who really pushed back to all this and said, it's shameful to question the patriotism, the love of the country of someone like Vindman.
KELLY: Also, it would seem to be hard to do for a guy who won, as you said, the Purple Heart serving for the U.S. in Iraq.
MYRE: He spent his entire adult life serving the U.S. military.
KELLY: So what happens tomorrow? He testifies. Does he go back to work at the White House?
MYRE: That's still where he works. We haven't heard anything to the contrary, but it could certainly be a little bit awkward if, indeed, he does.
KELLY: NPR's Greg Myre with that profile of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.