Suit Alleges Trump Jr., Guiliani, Scavino and Others Unlawfully Intimidated and Retaliated Against Lt. Col. Vindman for Impeachment Testimony
Washington, DC – Today, Alexander Vindman, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel and career public servant, filed a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia naming Donald Trump, Jr., Rudolph Giuliani, Julia Hahn, and Daniel Scavino, Jr., for their roles in a concerted campaign of witness intimidation and retaliation against him after he was subpoenaed by Congress to testify during former President Trump’s first impeachment.
In July 2019, as part of his official duties as the National Security Council’s singular Ukraine expert, Lt. Col. Vindman listened to a phone call between former President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which President Trump attempted to coerce Zelensky into publicly undertaking an investigation of then-former Vice President Biden and his son. Lt. Col. Vindman was immediately concerned that President Trump’s attempt to pressure Zelensky was improper, and likely unlawful, and risked national security. Honoring his oath of office to support and defend the Constitution, he reported his concerns through appropriate internal channels. Months later, Lt. Col. Vindman was twice called as a witness in impeachment proceedings against President Trump and provided sworn testimony.
As a result, Lt. Col. Vindman became the target of an unlawful conspiracy by President Trump and his close aides and allies, including key figures in the media, to intimidate and retaliate against him for his testimony. The defendants in the suit and other unnamed conspirators engaged in a coordinated campaign to falsely portray Lt. Col. Vindman as disloyal to the United States and to ruin his career in the military. Neither the former president nor his conspirators have been held accountable for their blatant attempts to obstruct the impeachment proceedings.
“I came to the United States as a child when my family fled autocratic oppression in the Soviet Union. I know democracy is fragile and I’ve committed more than two decades of my professional life to its defense,” wrote Lt. Col. Alex Vindman in his op-ed published this morning in USA Today. “America aspires to be a country governed by the rule of law—where the law applies equally to everyone and protects everyone, from the most powerful to the least. My case is a test of that proposition.”
“We can’t have a functional government or healthy democracy if witnesses can’t testify, and if federal officials can’t do their jobs, without fear of payback,” wrote Lt. Col. Vindman. “I filed this lawsuit because I believe in the active role all citizens must play in upholding our democracy . . . I hope this lawsuit will shed more light on the abuses that are chipping away at our democracy and eventually bring a measure of justice to those who are responsible.”
Key allegations in the complaint include:
- “As the result of being called to testify before Congress, Lt. Col. Vindman immediately became the target of a dangerous campaign of witness intimidation by President Trump and a group of conspirators. The conspirators agreed on common, unlawful objectives—to deter Lt. Col. Vindman from testifying in the future and to retaliate against him after he did so.”
- “Defendants and other conspirators acted on their agreed-upon objectives of intimidation and retaliation through: meetings to coordinate strategy regarding impeachment witnesses, including Lt. Col. Vindman; preparing, issuing, and using talking points aimed at coordinating and advancing false narratives about Lt. Col. Vindman’s loyalty to the United States; publishing, repeating, and amplifying false claims that Lt. Col. Vindman was a spy for Ukraine and had disparaged the United States to foreign officials; leaking classified information for the purpose of furthering the false disloyalty narrative; falsely accusing Lt. Col. Vindman of lying under oath; publicly removing Lt. Col. Vindman and his brother, who was serving as an attorney for the NSC, from their White House jobs; and attempting to derail Lt. Col. Vindman’s promotion to full Colonel.”
- “The campaign destroyed Lt. Col. Vindman’s ability to serve in any national security position or foreign affairs role, and indeed, to continue the career he had pursued for his entire adult life. Ultimately, after his career was effectively taken from him by the pervasive, false attacks on his loyalty and service, Lt. Col. Vindman was left with little choice but to retire from the military altogether.”
- “The actions taken by Defendants against Lt. Col. Vindman sent a message to other potential witnesses as well: cooperate and tell the truth at your own peril.”
The entire complaint can be found here. For more information about the case, click here.
The lawsuit alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1) and (2), which prohibit conspiracies to prevent someone from holding or discharging the duties of federal office, or to retaliate against them for doing so, as well as conspiracies to deter witnesses from testifying or to retaliate against them for doing so.
“Our democracy needs public servants—who take an oath to defend our Constitution and uphold the law—to report abuses of power, as Lt. Col. Vindman did,” said Genevieve Nadeau, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “The system can’t survive if officials performing their duties in good faith have to run a gauntlet of intimidation and retaliation, and our leaders are allowed to interfere with proceedings meant to hold them to account. Failing to impose accountability is both chilling to other whistleblowers and an invitation for escalating abuses of power. Lt. Col. Vindman’s effort to seek accountability is especially important now as the former president and his allies continue to interfere with Congress’s investigation of the January 6th insurrection.”
Danielle Leonard, an attorney at Altshuler Berzon LLP, commented, “This country is built on the rule of law. Public officials should not have to fear that their careers will be destroyed and reputations sullied if they comply with their legal duty to tell the truth when Congress calls them to testify. But that is exactly what the conspirators here attempted to do. Their actions were not only unjust and undermining of democracy, but they were unlawful. Lt. Col. Vindman has already been vindicated by the facts. This lawsuit now seeks legal accountability for the wrongs that he suffered.”
The suit was filed on behalf of Lt. Col. Vindman by the nonpartisan nonprofit Protect Democracy, and Altshuler Berzon LLP, a public interest law firm.
Alexander Vindman is a decorated combat veteran and retired United States Army lieutenant colonel who served as the Director for Eastern European, Caucasus, and Russian Affairs for the United States National Security Council from 2018–2020. Before joining the National Security Council, Lt. Col. Vindman served as an Army Foreign Area Officer and in a variety of leadership roles in the United States and abroad. He is an expert on military and strategic issues involving Eastern Europe, Russia, and Ukraine.
Protect Democracy is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization formed in late 2016 with an urgent and explicit mission: to prevent American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.
Altshuler Berzon LLP is a California-based law firm dedicated to providing the highest quality representation in the service of economic justice and the public interest.