Lt. Col. Vindman Told To ‘Keep Quiet’ About Ukraine Phone Call
And now we have evidence of a clear effort at a coverup by high-level White House employees. The question would be, what did the President know and when did he know it?
Earlier this week, former Trump National Security Adviser Alexander Vindman testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee regarding the July 25th phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky that is at the center of the ongoing impeachment investigation. Late yesterday, The Washington Post reported that, shortly after the phone call, Lt. Colonel Vindman was told by someone in the White House Counsel’s Office to keep quiet about the call:
Several days after President Trump’s phone call with the leader of Ukraine, a top White House lawyer instructed a senior national security official not to discuss his grave concerns about the leaders’ conversation with anyone outside the White House, according to three people familiar with the aide’s testimony.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified that he received this instruction from John Eisenberg, the top legal adviser for the National Security Council, after White House lawyers learned July 29 that a CIA employee had anonymously raised concerns about the Trump phone call, the sources said.
The directive from Eisenberg adds to an expanding list of moves by senior White House officials to contain, if not conceal, possible evidence of Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide information that could be damaging to former vice president Joe Biden.
The instruction to stay quiet came after White House officials had already discussed moving a rough transcript of the call into a highly classified computer server, and the instruction was delivered by Eisenberg, who would later be involved in the administration’s battle to keep an explosive whistleblower complaint about the call from being shared with Congress.
The interaction between Eisenberg and Vindman suggests there was a sense among some in the White House that Trump’s call with Zelensky was not, as the president has repeatedly claimed, “perfect.” And it threatens to undercut Trump’s argument that the expanding impeachment inquiry is politically driven.
“If this is such a perfect call, why is everybody going to these extraordinary lengths?” said a U.S. official familiar with Vindman’s testimony this week. “Why are people running immediately to the White House counsel? Why is the White House counsel telling people not to talk about it?”
The revelation, first reported Friday afternoon by Politico, comes as the impeachment inquiry is entering a new, public phase after the House voted along party lines this week to proceed with open hearings for the first time while investigating committees begin to map out articles expected to accuse Trump of abusing his power and potentially obstructing justice.
While meeting with Eisenberg, Vindman said he heard the legal adviser turn to another attorney in the room and propose steps to restrict access to the rough transcript — a move described in the whistleblower report as an attempt to “lock down” what lawmakers now consider the most damaging piece of evidence about Trump’s intent and conduct.
Vindman also testified that the transcript failed to capture several potentially important words or phrases, including a reference by Zelensky to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, that had employed Biden’s son and that Trump wanted investigated. Vindman said he sought to correct the transcript but that his suggestions were not incorporated.
New details from Vindman’s testimony also shed light on other aspects of the tense aftermath of the call inside the White House. The NSC aide said that Eisenberg approached him several days after the call and said that a CIA employee had raised internal concerns about the call, and that the agency’s top lawyer had relayed those concerns to the White House, people familiar with the testimony said.
This report doesn’t really add to the facts that we know about the July 25th phone call, of course, but it does corroborate both the whistleblower’s complaint about the extent to which the White House sought to suppress evidence of the call and the reports that have come out from other witnesses on that same issue. It was the whistleblower, of course, who first revealed the fact that White House officials moved the summary of the call and any other material related to it over to a White House server that is generally intended for only the most heavily secured information. The summary of the phone call was not equivalent to this level of classified information, which can only lead one to conclude that it was placed on this server in an effort to hide it.
The one thing that stands out about this, though, is the apparent involvement of the White House Counsel Office’s apparent involvement in what appears from the outside to be a clearly obvious cover-up of something that would be politically embarrassing to the President. As a general rule, the White House Counsel exists as the legal advisor to the Presidency, not a legal protector of whoever happens to be President at any given time. This is why there is, generally speaking, no attorney-client privilege between the White House Counsel and the President or any member of the White House staff because they are not the client. In this case, we appear to have an attorney or attorneys from that office acting in a manner that seems far more concerned with the political and legal interests of the President than the legal standing of the White House. One could even make an argument that it is improper for them to be acting in this manner.
As I said, this new report adds credence to the belief that there was a conscious effort to cover up the phone call and its contents because Administration officials recognized that it was damaging to the President. While perhaps not equal in scope to the coverup that took place after the Watergate break-in, the intention is the same. Namely, to keep Congress and the American people from learning the truth about wrongdoing in the White House. Depending on the President’s involvement in this effort that alone is potentially yet another impeachable offense.