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.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, Law and the Courts, National Security, Politicians, Ukraine, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Because the call was so “perfect,” and it so contained no evidence of any wrongdoing, that it cannot be tarnished by its details being made known outside the band of White House conspirators.

    ReplyReply
  2. Teve says:

    Acyn Torabi
    @Acyn
    ·
    12h
    Dinesh D’Souza mocks Lt. Col. Vindman and says “we don’t need a fellow in a uniform to tell us how he felt about it”

    This happened on Laura Ingraham’s show on Foxnews btw.

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    Maddow had fun last night speculating, really repeating David Ignatius’ speculation, that Trump may have done this before, with the previous president of Ukraine. the Ukrainian president got a meeting with Trump and Javelin missiles around the time they stopped cooperating with Mueller on Manafort.

    The Javelin is a fire and forget anti-tank missile. You can pop up, sight on the tank, fire, and duck back down without waiting for it to hit. The missile takes a high trajectory and guides itself down onto the top of the tank, where the armor is thinnest. It has an effective warhead. And it claims a range of almost three miles. If you’re fighting Russians with tanks you want Javelins bad enough to agree to almost anything.

    This Ukraine story is speculation, but if true, this would be twice Trump’s done this. As was once the punchline of an Asimov story, two is an impossible number.

    ReplyReply
  4. john430 says:

    Still much ado about nothing. The colonel has no factual proof of wrong doing. He just has his opinion. Just like I have my opinion that Democrats are neo-Nazis. So there. We’re even.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Will there be a Trump impeachment equivalent to John Dean? Since Bill Barr is no Elliot Richardson, I doubt it, no one in Tiny’s inner circle fears going to jail over their lies with this administration.

    ReplyReply
  6. de stijl says:

    @john430:

    It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.

    This is not an opinion.

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  7. grumpy realist says:

    @john430: What evidence would you accept as proof of Trump’s corruption?

    If your answer is “nothing”, then we know exactly how much you in fact care about truth and law and justice as opposed to being a cult member for Trump.

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  8. Teve says:

    @de stijl: Using tax monies to extort foreign governments to smear your political opponents is just, like, your opinion, man.

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  9. JKB says:

    What the hell do you think happens at any government office when it is learned that the IG is looking into something. The word goes out not to discuss the matter outside the office. That does not mean don’t talk to IG investigators, it means don’t gossip.

    For those ignorant, anytime you may have to speak with government investigators, you don’t want any other “versions” of what you might be asked out there. Federal prosecutors go for “lying to federal officials” when they need a scalp but can’t make the case. This goes double for politicals, especially in a White House that has already had several officials taken out by this “charge”. Once there is an investigation, you keep your mouth shut except as advised by legal counsel.

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  10. de stijl says:

    @john430:

    It does not even require an explicit or implicit quid pro quo. The solicitation itself is a federal crime. (The illegal hold on properly legislated and authorized by Congress military aid to Ukraine makes the first act more egregious, and is in itself also a violation of the law.)

    Trump did this twice on camera (Russia and China) and once in the call to Zelensky.

    These are facts we know. So far.

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  11. de stijl says:

    @Teve:

    You can call me El de stijlerino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

    ReplyReply
  12. john430 says:

    @de stijl: Yet the President of Ukraine says no such thing happened. Do you get to rewrite the facts of the call just because you don’t want to believe him?

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    No, dumbass, only people with something to hide clam up. Decent people answer questions truthfully. But as an acknowledged liar, you would of course not understand.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @john430:
    Why doesn’t Trump release the actual un-redacted transcript?

    Why is he trying to stop people testifying?

    Why is he obstructing every investigation?

    Simple answer: he’s guilty. And you know it.

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  15. de stijl says:

    @john430:

    Re-read the redacted “transcript”. He def solicited.

    And we will soon see the unredacted version.

    You’ve chosen an odd hill to defend. It’s already been lost. In your defence, you are defending on the substance. Not many are. Obviously.

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  16. CSK says:

    I just saw a great new name for Trump: The Pumpkin Pustule.

    ReplyReply
  17. mattbernius says:

    @john430:

    Yet the President of Ukraine says no such thing happened. Do you get to rewrite the facts of the call just because you don’t want to believe him?

    Huh, the president of a country that’s dependent on us for foreign aid doesn’t want to disagree with a President of the United States who has on at least one occasion temporarily withheld Congressionally approved aid because Ukraine was not complying with a request to announce an investigation into Joe Biden.

    That’s just like how, most people giving protection money will swear they are doing it willingly and folks like John Gotti aren’t really crooks. Or like victims of domestic abuse who swear nothing is wrong.

    Again, all the evidence at hand is suggesting that there was a quid pro quo for political gain. Trust me, the sooner you get to “there was a quid pro quo and nothing’s wrong with that” the better, because as more comes out it’s going to be undeniable.

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  18. Teve says:

    @de stijl:

    @john430:

    Re-read the redacted “transcript”. He def solicited.

    I’m going to edit my comment because I hate people who give away spoilers:

    Have you seen Westworld? John is like [redacted], if he’s not supposed to see something it’s literally invisible to him, even though everybody else can see it just fine.

    ReplyReply
  19. CSK says:

    @john430: It’s difficult to read “I would like you to do us a favor” as anything but a quid pro quo.

    ReplyReply
  20. senyordave says:

    @Teve: Dinesh D’Souza mocks Lt. Col. Vindman and says “we don’t need a fellow in a uniform to tell us how he felt about it”
    Anyone who thought for a second that his supporters would balk at smearing a decorated veteran needs to review Trump’s history. Smearing people is wheelhouse, it’s what he lives for. And just remember that D’Souza was such a decent fellow that he received a pardon from Trump. Trump and his supporters are, to quote a phrase from the Donald himself, human scum.
    If this were a just world Trump would end up like Mussolini.

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  21. de stijl says:

    @JKB:

    The ACLU takes these issues seriously and vigorously defends the rights of the accused.

    You should consider donating.

    ReplyReply
  22. de stijl says:

    @senyordave:

    Disagree with your conclusion.

    1. Waste of a good American-made rope
    2. It would be so fun to watch our soon-to-be ex-President reduced to living in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Like stupid, stuporously, stupendously funny. Summer jaunts to Crimea, which Russia totally owned forever. It’s a fact! No backsies!
    3. The kids+Jared would go nuts.
    4. So much Trump id and rage!

    ReplyReply
  23. JohnSF says:

    @john430:
    Why has the President of Ukraine not contradicted President Trump’s version of reality?
    Are you really that naive?

    For similar reasons that UK ministers have not said President Trump is a dimwit who has not the first clue about British politics in regard to his laughable call to a British radio phone-in show.

    If you really can’t see why foreign governments bite their tongues re. the comments and actions of the US President, I have a deal on some ocean-front property in Iowa that may interest you.

    ReplyReply
  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john430: You’re a fucking idiot.

    ReplyReply
  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @mattbernius: And yet, he will deny it.

    ReplyReply
  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: He shoots…
    …wide of the net.

    ReplyReply
  27. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    What we really want to see is the raw transcript produced by the transcriptionist. (Look up “voice writing” in wiki). This raw, unedited file (text and often an accompanying audio file) reveals everything that was said, including notations if there were any translators.

    In a court of law, that is the transcription that would be deemed as evidence.

    By law ( Presidential Records Act) that transcription is required to be preserved and maintained.

    ReplyReply
  28. DrDaveT says:

    @john430:

    Yet the President of Ukraine says no such thing happened.

    “No, Miss Othmar, nobody took my lunch money. I just lost it, honest.”

    ReplyReply

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