The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Alexander Vindman sues Trump Jr. and Giuliani, alleging retaliation over first Trump impeachment proceedings

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman appears before a House panel during an impeachment in November 2019. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Alexander Vindman, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former White House national security aide, is suing several allies of former president Donald Trump, alleging that they intimidated and retaliated against him while he was a key witness during Trump’s first impeachment.

According to the 73-page complaint, Vindman’s lawsuit “seeks long-overdue accountability for unlawful actions knowingly undertaken by close associates and allies” of Trump, alleging that they “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 during impeachment proceedings against President Trump.”

Those named as defendants in Vindman’s lawsuit include Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son; former Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani; former White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino; and former White House deputy communications director Julia Hahn. The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which makes it unlawful to conspire to interfere with a federal official’s ability to carry out the duties of their office or to interfere with any witness’s ability to testify.

Vindman, who was formerly the National Security Council’s expert on Ukraine, had listened to a July 2019 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and his ties to Ukrainian businesses. Vindman reported the call through official channels, and Trump’s alleged attempts to pressure Ukraine into political investigations by leveraging promises of an official White House visit by Zelensky and military aid would later become the basis of his first impeachment and Senate trial.

Congress issued a subpoena to Vindman, who testified in an impeachment inquiry about his concerns over Trump’s actions involving Ukraine. Vindman immediately became the target of a witness-intimidation campaign by Trump and his allies that “did not simply happen by accident or coincidence,” his lawsuit alleges.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told a House investigative committee that despite putting himself in direct opposition to President Trump, in America “right matters" (Video: The Washington Post)

Representatives for Trump Jr. and Giuliani did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Vindman alleges that Trump and his allies coordinated strategies regarding impeachment witnesses, propagated false narratives about Vindman’s loyalty to the United States, and leaked classified information to further their false narratives. They also publicly removed Vindman and his twin brother, a former National Security Council attorney, from their White House jobs and sought to derail Vindman’s promotion to full colonel.

“Defendants’ campaign against Lt. Col. Vindman was designed to inflict maximum damage by creating and spreading disinformation that they knew would be picked up and amplified by anchors at Fox News, other right-wing media outlets, and across social media — all while Lt. Col. Vindman’s active duty status prevented him from effectively defending himself,” the complaint states.

Hahn, for instance, would channel Trump’s “preferred messaging to surrogates and chosen media partners (including, on information and belief, Laura Ingraham and others at Fox News),” his complaint alleges, noting a “unique interdependence and high level of coordination between the [Trump] White House and Fox News.”

The complaint also includes captured images of Trump’s previous tweets insinuating that there would be “Big Consequences” for people within his administration who provided information on the Zelensky telephone call.

What’s more, Vindman’s complaint noted, the campaign to tarnish Vindman’s reputation encouraged Trump’s supporters to attack Vindman in “even more dangerous and frightening ways,” including with physical threats to him and his family.

Lt. Col. Vindman says Trump continues to pose a threat to U.S. democracy by propagating “the big lie” and demonizing anyone who doesn’t support him. “He’s an enormous threat… I can make cold, hard calculations about the threat the… former president of the United States Donald Trump poses. He continues to pose a keen threat based on propagating this lie that the election was stolen… He attempted to launch an insurrection, he… demonizes the Democratic party, or anybody that’s not a supporter of his… He’s a vile man that has done more damage to the United States than any other leader in recent U.S. history.” (Video: Washington Post Live)

As a result of the “bullying” and “intimidation” campaign, Vindman said he was left with no choice but to retire from the military in 2020.

“The actions taken by Defendants against Lt. Col. Vindman sent a message to other potential witnesses as well: cooperate and tell the truth at your own peril,” the complaint states. That message “reverberates to this day,” with several Trump allies subpoenaed by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol continuing to defy those subpoenas. The former president has urged his allies and former aides to stonewall the panel.

According to the complaint, Vindman is seeking unspecified compensation “for the injuries he suffered as a result of Defendants’ unlawful conduct,” as well as other punitive damages and legal fees. Vindman alleges that he and his family suffered “significant reputational, emotional and financial harm” because of Trump and his allies’ actions, as well as from the public attacks. The attacks on his service and loyalty to the United States also prevented him from pursuing the kind of career for which he had expertise, he alleges.

In a guest column Wednesday for USA Today, Vindman wrote that his life took “a dramatic and unexpected turn” when he listened to a July 2019 phone call during which Trump made “inappropriate and possibly unlawful demands of a foreign leader.”

“I don’t regret telling the truth either in private or during the public impeachment hearings,” Vindman wrote. “I did what I was trained and obligated to do as a longtime member of the U.S. Army and a federal official.”

The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In February 2020, the Republican-led Senate voted to acquit the president.