Impeachment Witness Alexander Vindman Calls Trump Putin’s "Useful Idiot”
In a new interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Alexander Vindman, formerly the National Security Council’s director for European affairs, described President Donald Trump as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “useful idiot.”
Vindman came to national attention last year during Trump’s impeachment, when he testified about the president’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. He retired from the military in July, alleging a campaign of retaliation by Trump.
Regarding Trump and Putin, Vindman told Goldberg:
“With previous Democratic and Republican administrations, there have been left and right guardrails that helped define what was acceptable in terms of Russia policy. I thought we were operating within those boundaries. With Democrats, it might have been more engagement; with Republicans, it could have been more hard power. I didn’t know precisely what Trump’s boundaries would be, but I did think we would be operating within boundaries.”
Vindman came to find that there were no such boundaries, he says. Trump’s desire to impress Putin, and to shape American policy in ways that please Putin, has caused many former U.S. intelligence officials, and even some officials who have worked directly for him, to suspect that he has been compromised by Russia. In his new book, Rage, Bob Woodward writes that Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence, “continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that Putin had something on Trump.” Woodward goes on, “How else to explain the president’s behavior? Coats could see no other explanation.” Peter Strzok, the former FBI counterespionage chief, told my colleague Anne Applebaum that Trump “is unable to put the interests of our nation first, that he acts from hidden motives, because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.”
Asked if Trump is a Russian asset, Vindman told Goldberg:
“President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler, which makes him an unwitting agent of Putin,” he says. Useful idiot is a term commonly used to describe dupes of authoritarian regimes; fellow traveler, in Vindman’s description, is a person who shares Putin’s loathing for democratic norms.
Asked if he believes Russia is blackmailing Trump, Vindman responded:
“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. 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 added: “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.”