Alexander Vindman's Background
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
What was left out of the official White House record of the July phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine? A top White House adviser on Ukraine, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, testified before a congressional committee yesterday that he tried to fill in the blanks left in the log of the call. This is according to The New York Times. Democrats and some Republicans have praised Vindman for his testimony, even as President Trump and his allies are publicly questioning his loyalties. Vindman's family immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine when he was a child. He has spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, and he received a Purple Heart and other commendations after he was wounded by an IED early in the Iraq War.
Former Army Brigadier General Peter Zwack came to know Vindman a few years later in 2012. The two were colleagues at the U.S. embassy in Moscow where Zwack was the senior U.S. defense official. Retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack joins us now in studio. Thank you so much for coming in.
PETER ZWACK: Pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman? Tell us about the guy you knew and worked with.
ZWACK: I think I need to lay out a working environment, which was the U.S. embassy Moscow back between 2012 and 2014 - very consequential years in our mission for a group of attaches who represented the United States Department of Defense and the military to the Russian defense establishment and worked closely within the international community and aspects of the Russian, as well, to facilitate, if you will, the defense side of our foreign policy - was a very, very, very important time.
ZWACK: The most - the key attribute when you get into personal relationships is imagine you're in a relatively small working space and you're on a mission to Mars. It's pretty well closed off and you have to trust each other implicitly - absolutely trust each other. We did. Alex is a hardworking, dedicated person who had the courage of his convictions and was a true area specialist. And the key point is that when we were doing work within Russia, we trusted him entirely as vice versa.
MARTIN: Do I understand then that you never had a reason to question his integrity?
ZWACK: None, none. I would trust him with my life.
MARTIN: I ask that because, as you know, President Trump supporters have attempted to call into question his loyalty. President Trump himself has called Alexander Vindman a, quote, "Never Trumper." As a career military officer yourself, what do you make of the commander in chief publicly disparaging a decorated officer?
ZWACK: That is a major reason I'm speaking today. Generally, I'm reticent on these type of events. It was unfair. It was unfounded. And to slime and slander the good name, the career and the actions of a fine Army officer, one who many who know him - and I knew him especially well - it was out of bounds in my mind. It was absolutely over the top and wrong.
MARTIN: If you were granted a few minutes of President Trump's time in this moment, what would be your guidance to him?
ZWACK: In regard to Colonel Vindman, I would tell him to apologize to the young officer who's trying to do his best. Imagine you were in a place like this with a pretty consequential portfolio and you see something that just doesn't seem right. Do you sit on it? Or do you look for guidance, guidance which would be, if you will, the NSC attorney or the White House general counsel? You just don't sit on it. And so he moved forward. But when you - but folks around him knew he was doing it. This was not something in isolation.
MARTIN: Your final message - anything else you think is important for us to know?
ZWACK: Yes. I think that you need to - in these environments, you have to fight and inculcate trust, straight-shooting, if you will, information. Alex did that. And you need to - leadership need to trust their people and the people inside there need to look up to their leadership. And sadly, we lack that.
MARTIN: General Peter Zwack is a global fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute. Thank you so much for your time.
ZWACK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.