President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, spoke out in defense of U.S. Army Lt. Col Alexander Vindman after Vindman’s removal from the White House National Security Council (NSC).
Kelly said on Wednesday that Vindman was simply following his military training when he raised concerns about a controversial July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave. He went and told his boss what he just heard,” Kelly said at a Drew University Forum lecture series in Morristown, N.J., as reported by the Atlantic.
Trump was alleged to have used the July phone call as a means of pressuring Zelensky to take up investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden over allegations Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor looking into his son’s oil company, Burisma.
Vindman testified in November before the U.S. House of Representatives that Trump had strayed from talking points Vindman set out for the planned call with Zelensky and acted “inappropriately” during the call. Vindman’s testimony helped advance Democrat-led impeachment efforts.
“We teach them: don’t follow an illegal order,” Kelly said. “And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.”
Though he left the White House at the end of 2018 and had not been around for the July phone call, Kelly suggested in his Wednesday comments that he believed the allegations raised against the president, that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine pending investigations of Biden.
“Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against …. the Russians,” Kelly said. “And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that’s what that guy [Vindman] was most interested in.”
Throughout the impeachment process, Trump’s defense team argued that no link between aid and an investigation was ever officially communicated to the Ukrainian government. Trump’s defense also argued that Ukraine only ever began receiving lethal aid after Trump took office, as opposed to the non-lethal support the country received when President Barack Obama was in office.
Kelly previously threw his support behind calling former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify in the U.S. Senate’s impeachment trial. At the time, controversial leaks from a draft of Bolton’s upcoming book alleged he held a conversation with Trump in which the president specifically discussed linking Ukrainian aid to investigations of the Bidens.
“If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” Kelly said at the time.
Kelly’s own tenure in the White House might not have been without controversy. Trump’s former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley alleged in her own forthcoming book that Kelly and Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lobbied her to help them subvert Trump’s policy efforts.
In a September speech, Kelly did admit he tried to stop Trump’s efforts to place U.S. troops on the southern border. Kelly also said that while he supports a border wall, he disagreed with another Trump decision to shift Pentagon money to fund the construction.