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Vindman says Trump ‘useful idiot’ and ‘unwitting agent of Putin’

Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on October 29, 2019, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
September 14, 2020

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col Alexander Vindman called President Donald Trump a “useful idiot” of Russian President Vladimir Putin in his first interview since leaving the military.

Vindman, speaking to Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg this week, said “President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler, which makes him an unwitting agent of Putin.”

According to The Atlantic, Vindman used the term “useful idiot” to describe those duped by authoritarian regimes, and used the term “fellow traveler” to suggest Trump and Putin have a shared loathing of democratic norms.

Asked by The Atlantic if Russia has compromising information against Trump, Vindman said “They may or may not have dirt on him, but they don’t have to use it.”

“They have more effective and less risky ways to employ him,” Vindman said. “He has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is, and so he admires him. He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.”

Vindman continued, saying, “In the Army we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.”

Asked why he wanted to speak out against Trump, Vindman said, “I was drawn into this by the president, who politicized me. I think it’s important for the American people to know that this could happen to any honorable service member, any government official. I think it’s important for me to tell people that I think the president has made this country weaker. We’re mocked by our adversaries and by our allies, and we’re heading for more disaster.”

Vindman said, “Truth is a victim in this administration, I think it’s Orwellian—the ultimate goal of this president is to get you to disbelieve what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard. My goal now is to remind people of this.”

Vindman served as a witness in the House of Representatives’ Democrat-led impeachment hearings in November 2019 over claims Trump withheld foreign aid to Ukraine to prompt an investigation of Democratic rival Joe Biden. Vindman, who at the time served in the White House National Security Council, testified before lawmakers that he felt Trump had not adhered to talking points he had laid out for Trump ahead of a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Trump was impeached in the House but acquitted of the impeachment charges in the Senate. Following his acquittal, Trump removed Vindman from his White House role. Vindman announced plans to retire from the military in July, claiming Trump was leading a bullying campaign to prevent him from career advancements within the military. The day after officially retiring from the Army in July, Vindman wrote an op-ed article for the Washington Post in which he said the Trump administration is “reminiscent of an authoritarian regime.”

Vindman’s remarks to The Atlantic come less than two weeks after Goldberg published another article, drawing from four anonymous sources, claiming Trump referred to U.S. service members injured and killed in combat as “losers” and “suckers,” claims Trump and other current and former administration officials have refuted.