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Failures of Afghanistan Withdrawal; Interview With Russian Ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 03, 2022 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Putin continues to add forces, combined arms, offensive capabilities.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): And, as the U.S. sends more troops to support NATO allies, Moscow's ambassador to the E.U., Vladimir Chizhov, joins us.
GEORGE PACKER, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": The vast majority of Afghans who are at risk are still in Afghanistan.
AMANPOUR: How America betrayed his Afghan partners. Journalist and expert George Packer joins me on his gut-wrenching reporting.
LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I feel like I'm doing the right thing. I feel
like I'm finally taking a step to hold these folks accountable.
AMANPOUR: The star witness in Trump's first impeachment alleges a conspiracy of intimidation. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman
tells Michel Martin why he's suing Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
President Biden celebrated a victory on the battlefield this morning, confirming the leader of ISIS was killed during a U.S. special forces raid
in Northern Syria.
This news, though, comes is some 3,000 U.S. troops prepared to be deployed in Eastern Europe, a show of force against Russia. The Pentagon says the
move is not permanent, as the White House walked back earlier comments that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent.
Still, the number of U.S. forces there are dwarfed by the 100,000 troops that Russia has amassed along the border with Ukraine. President Putin
heads next to China for the Olympics and for a key meeting with President Xi Jinping.
In a moment, I will speak to Moscow's ambassador to the E.U., but first the lay of the land in Ukraine.
Reporter Sam Kiley is in Kyiv.
Sam, welcome to the program.
You have been there for a while now, while all this saber-rattling intention mounts. What is the feeling in the capital and around other parts
of Ukraine? Do they actually believe that Russia intends to invade?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a question we ask Ukrainians every day, Christiane, and, every day, we get the same answers.
Some believe they will some. Believe they won't.
Some think that -- more frequently, though, that there will be some manifestation of some kind of hybrid warfare of the sort that we have seen
in the past, a limited incursion. We saw that with the seizure of the Donbass region in 2014 and the annexation of Crimea, covert operators
working cyberattacks and economic pressure being brought to bear with the - - with a view to causing political chaos.
Among the people who've really given it a lot of thought -- there are a lot of people who don't have a lot of time for a lot of thought about it here -
- those are really the outcomes, something messy and hard to identify, perhaps even hard to accuse the Russians directly of actually doing, that
would cripple Ukraine, even if Ukraine cannot be taken possession of entirely, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Does it feel -- do the officials you speak to feel that they are getting enough support, defensive support from the West in order to counter
any kind of incursion?
KILEY: They're grateful for what they have received. They're very careful to be diplomatic about that, regularly trumpeting the arrival, for example,
in the last 24 hours 80 tons or so of grenades, short -- but these are short-range infantry weapons such as Javelins and other shoulder-launched
anti-armor weapons that have been coming in from the U.S. and U.K. in particular, some artillery also being donated, or least ammunition for
artillery from Poland.
They're getting a bit of help, but it's all low-level battlefield stuff. They are very frustrated that they're not getting the sort of air defenses
that they would like, that they would need that you're seeing, that we have seen in action, for example, over the last week or so over the United Arab
That's American-supplied weaponry going to the UAE to shoot-down Houthi rockets. They're saying, well, what about the rockets that might come here?
We need to be able to knock them down. The supply of lethal aid to Ukraine has been minimal by the allies, notwithstanding the political support that
they have been getting over the recent weeks, but particularly over the last few years, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, you know there's a lot of concern that there might be some kind of false flag operation.
And the latest is, the U.S. National Security Agency believes that they have detected evidence that Russia may be planning to fabricate a graphic
video, complete with actors playing dead and all sorts of graphic imagery, showing that either NATO support or Ukrainians have attacked either Russia
proper or Russian-speaking people in Eastern Ukraine, in other words, a false flag reason to do something.
Are you hearing that kind of worry?
KILEY: That is a deep worry.
And, of course, the Russians have form -- or at least their rivals and enemies say the Russians have form. They point to suspicious bombing
attacks of real people really killed inside Russia. And the Chechen separatists were blamed for that. A lot of people have considered that that
was, claimed that that was sort of false flag operations run by the KGB.
They have a lot of form for this. And it's all part of the Gerasimov Doctrine in Russia, which is that chaos in the ranks of the enemy is
So, whether it is interfering with the U.S. elections, supporting people who support Brexit and the breakup of the united -- of united Europe of the
European Union, or a false flag operation that could be an excuse for some kind of cross-border operation to, in the view of the Russian propaganda,
save Russian-speaking citizens -- a lot of them have been given citizenship in the east of Ukraine -- from genocide, a word that they might want to
use, it's all part of that doctrine, Christiane.
It's all part of the same set of not only having public causes for war, but also techniques at how you prosecute them when you decide to go on the
offensive. Essentially, the Ukrainians are saying, we're already enduring a lot of this stuff already and have been since 2014.
AMANPOUR: Sam Kiley, thank you very much for setting the scene for us from there in Kyiv.
And now we're going to hear the perspective from Moscow.
Vladimir Chizhov is Russia's ambassador to the E.U. And he's joining me from Brussels.
Ambassador Chizhov, welcome back to the program. We have been dying to get you on the show and trying to get the actual Russian perspective.
So, can I start by asking you how you analyze what just came out of the White House, in that the White House is saying that it is walking back its
-- whatever you want to call it, it statements over the last several weeks that an invasion by Russia was imminent?
Russia didn't like that. Do you consider this some kind of give, a positive sign?
VLADIMIR CHIZHOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Well, I will have to look into the contents of those statements.
But, first of all, thank you for having me. And I'm glad to see that, after dying to hear me, you're still alive.
CHIZHOV: So, I believe this overheated rhetoric coming primarily from Washington and some other Western capitals, notably, much more heated than
the one we hear coming from Kyiv, actually, it is -- I would say, creates not only tension from the political point of view, but creates immediate
danger of provocations in the area and hostilities by chance or by mistake.
AMANPOUR: Right. So...
CHIZHOV: Quite recently, a Ukrainian soldier -- yes.
Like, the incident that took place over a week ago, when a Ukrainian soldier, for some reason, shot five of his colleagues at the protected
site, and then tried to run away.
CHIZHOV: So these things are -- make the overall situation quite tense and dangerous.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, the U.S. and indeed the U.K. have put your capital on notice that they are watching and seeing, not just deployments, but also
so-called planning for false flag operations. You know what that means
Maybe you just heard me describe one that the U.S. National Security Agency is concerned about, that Russia may be planning some kind of graphic video
to simulate an attack on Russians by either Ukrainians or NATO-supporting Ukrainians, implicating NATO as well, complete with actors and video and
the whole lot of it.
Can you confirm that Russia would not do that kind of thing?
CHIZHOV: I think I understand what you have in mind. It's something similar to false flag operations conducted by Western countries and certain
quasi-NGOs in Syria some time ago with alleged chemical attacks, allegedly by the Syrian government, but, in essence, by their opponents.
So, I can assure you that Russia is never involved in any business of this kind. And there is no reason, logically speaking, that that might be taking
AMANPOUR: So I know that is the Moscow point of view on the chemical weapons in Syria. But, as you know very well, it has been proven and it was
condemned at the Security Council.
So let's just move on from Syria, and ask you about the buildup of troops by Moscow around Ukraine, including what NATO has said, the biggest
deployment of Belarusian troops onto the border since the Cold War. There is a huge amount, I mean, hundreds of thousands -- 100,000 or more.
And yet your spokesman, the Kremlin spokesman, says to CNN, the U.S. and NATO defensive weapons deployed, amounting to some 3,000, "is the best
proof that we, as Russia, have an obvious reason to be worried."
But, I mean, the NATO weapons are vastly outnumbered by the troops and weapons that Russia has deployed there.
CHIZHOV: Yes, of course, we are worried. We are greatly concerned because, OK, from the strategic point of view, the deployment of a few thousand
American and other Western groups in the area does not change the balance of forces.
But from the political point of view, it's a provocative action that is actually pushing hotheads in Kyiv, the number which is quite great in that
Ukrainian capital, to proceed with certain show of force and efforts to try to solve what they call the Donbass issue by force.
That is very dangerous. And that would make the United States and Western European countries involved complicit in that adventure.
CHIZHOV: As far as Russian troops are concerned, the -- well, I don't know, if you have counted them. I haven't.
But, definitely, all Russian troops are on Russian soil. And the contingent that has been dispatched to Belarus, which is part of the union state with
Russia, it's in the framework of a previously announced, long-ago announced joint exercise between the Russian and Belarusian armed forces in various
parts of that country.
And if you studied geography of the area, actually, the southern part of Belarus, close to the Ukrainian border, is really a swampy area, which is
hardly fitting for certain active engagement of tanks and other heavy weaponry.
So I don't see any reason to -- for those exercises that had been previously announced, and will be conducted according to plan, to be a
source of concern to anybody.
AMANPOUR: So that obviously will be a relief to the Ukrainians, who actually in public have not been hotheaded, in fact, the reverse. They're
trying to tamp down any talk of war or invasion or anything.
And I actually want to ask you about the E.U. You're there. You're the ambassador to the E.U. for your country. I spoke to the E.U. Commission
president, Ursula von der Leyen, and she basically said that, for one of the first times in a long, long time, the bloc is united, and everything is
on the table, whether it's Nord Stream or whatever it is, that they are united.
Let me just play a little bit of what she told me earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: I want, again, to be very clear, nothing is off the table. This includes all the topics that we
And it is the nature of this package that it is comprehensive, it is big, and it is massive in the consequences. Everything is looked at. This is a
very serious situation. We have not had such a critical situation since World War II in that region. And, therefore, everything is on the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, how do you react to that? Does that worry Moscow, this sort of wall of defense on behalf of keeping security in Europe?
CHIZHOV: Well, she didn't mention, the president of the commission, didn't mention what kind of package she had in mind.
The European Commission is very prolific in producing all sorts of packages on a daily basis. If, in this particular instance, she had in mind a
package of restrictive measures, well, we have been hearing a lot from people here in Brussels, from people across the big blue lake, including --
and, of course, the little strait in between -- including references to the mother of all sanctions.
That brings, in my own memory, reminiscences of Saddam Hussein. It's more in the domain of his own phraseology than, I would say, modern-day 25th --
21st century politics.
Well, we consider that any restrictive -- restrictive measures against Russia will be met accordingly by countermeasures from the Russian side.
And, in the end, I believe that the ordinary people on all sides in Europe would suffer, because this is the only -- this will be the only result of
these, I would say, very myopic, I would say, actions.
AMANPOUR: You know, we have talked to a lot of Western officials about Russia's demands.
You know that the idea of Russia having a veto over who and who does not join NATO is a nonstarter. But the West has been pretty open, and they have
even confirmed the leak of their proposals in response to all these letters that are flying back and forth between Moscow and NATO and the U.S. and
Europe, et cetera.
And it's very clear that they are publicly saying and privately saying that they will engage and they want to engage with Russia on areas of security
concerns, on missile deployments, and all the kinds of things that are important to you and that you have raised.
Is there anywhere in there that Moscow sees a valuable, constructive opening for addressing some of these issues?
CHIZHOV: Yes, we see that there is still room for constructive, productive dialogue, both on the bilateral Russian-American track and on other
multilateral tracks, though, so far, we haven't seen a positive answer to our legitimate concerns on the basic things, like non-expansion of NATO,
like return to the posture of 1997.
And, of course, our -- one of our major concerns is the need to look at the European security in a complex, comprehensive way. Open doors for NATO and
the right of any country to decide the way its own security concerns are addressed, that's a legitimate demand.
But it should be considered in conjunction with the other half of that formula, which had been coined back in 1999 in Istanbul at the OSCE summit
that -- let me quote -- that the countries will not...
AMANPOUR: It's the not one inch you're talking about, right?
CHIZHOV: ... their security at the expense of security of others.
Yes. So, again, I mean...
CHIZHOV: That's the Istanbul Charter of European Security, which I take very dearly to my heart, because I was one of its authors.
AMANPOUR: What do you think President Putin wants to get out of his conversation with the new chancellor of Germany? They're going to meet, him
and Olaf Scholz, pretty soon.
CHIZHOV: Well, we have a lot of bilateral issues to address.
This would be the first visit by the new German chancellor. They have a new government, a new coalition government. So there will be a lot of issues to
Germany is a major partner of Russia in Europe. And we have -- we have, I would say, well-established economic ties.
CHIZHOV: And we -- and, of course, in the political field, Germany is an active participant of many international formats, including the Normandy
default on Ukraine, by the way.
AMANPOUR: Well, we will keep watching.
Thank you for joining us, Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov from Brussels.
CHIZHOV: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, it's been five months since the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and we're still learning more and more about what went
"The Atlantic" writer George Packer has turned his reporting eye to the tragic, often farcical failure by the Biden administration to protect
Afghans who bravely worked for the United States and other NATO countries - - well, for the United States -- during the war, putting them at mortal risks from the Taliban.
The result is an astonishing account of how bureaucracy trumped morality and the moral responsibility.
George Packer, welcome.
The article is devastating. Any of us who've been to Afghanistan and know the kind of bonds that are forged and have to be honored, I'm just stunned
by your reporting.
So, let's start with a case study. First of all, I did not know that there was a female tactical platoon, the FTP, that you use a case study of one
young Afghan woman, Hawa, who did everything to work alongside American officers in these terribly dangerous conditions, and then has been
Tell me that case study.
PACKER: I had no idea either that Afghan and American men and women in special forces went on raids together, on the same helicopters, up the same
mountains, and went in on strikes against the Taliban and Islamic State together.
So, Hawa is -- was a member of the Afghan army in the special forces. She worked very closely with an American Army captain I'm calling Alice Spence.
They formed a very close bond. And when -- and after Spence redeployed back to the U.S. and Biden, President Biden, announced the end of the war,
Spence began to worry about Hawa and what would happen to her.
And she got in touch, tried to get her a visa to the U.S. and found that she couldn't, because Hawa did not work for the U.S. government. She worked
for the Afghan army. And when Kabul fell, many women like Hawa and others did not fall into any category that the U.S. government thought it had an
obligation to try to evacuate.
She was on her own. And she got back in touch with Captain Spence. And they began texting each other every hour, at times every minute for days, until,
finally, Captain Spence managed to get Lieutenant Hawa and some other Afghan women into the airport, at just enormous effort and difficulty and
real risk to life.
AMANPOUR: So, that was successful. They got out.
But it does strike me as completely mad that of all things we knew were going to be at risk in Afghanistan under the Taliban were women. And so
many women did come out, and yet this one, who worked for and with the United States, had to go through the good auspices of one single American
captain, who was using all her influence.
Now we get to another.
PACKER: And who was working on her own time, yes, who was working on our own time, at her own costs, without official support, because of a personal
AMANPOUR: Then we get to another guy. This time, you profile a guy called Khan. And he did work with American forces.
And from what I gather, he was eligible for one of these Special Immigrant Visas that the U.S. made such a big deal about. And everybody thought that
the relevant partners of the U.S. in Afghanistan would get to go out.
But you describe -- I mean, I know we use this word a lot, Kafkaesque, but a bureaucracy that you can't even imagine comes from the United States, and
prevented this guy from coming out in good time.
PACKER: He applied for a Special Immigrant Visa several years ago. And, in a way, three years of waiting is about average.
Some people -- and I wrote about another Afghan who waited 10 years before his visa was unjustly denied. The Special Immigrant Visa program was set up
under President Bush, continued under Obama and Trump and Biden. And under every single president, it was a system that seemed set up for failure,
where, to get through every bureaucratic hoop and jump every hurdle, whether it was through the department of state or Homeland Security, was
almost impossible for Afghans, including those who worked for years and risked their lives going out on combat missions with U.S. troops.
So, it was -- Kafkaesque is absolutely the right word.
Khan finally got his visa in hand two or three days before Kabul fell, after years and years of trying. So, in some sense, he was one of the lucky
ones. But then Kabul fell, so he couldn't get out. And there was no system in place, because the U.S. government didn't plan for this, for SIV
holders, visa holders, to be brought to the airport and brought in and put on planes.
Khan, with his wife, who was at the time 34 weeks' pregnant, and their 3- year-old son, had to get to the airport and inside on their own, which was an ordeal that nearly cost them their lives. And he later told me they were
prepared to stay at the airport until they died, because they saw no future in Afghanistan that didn't have a death sentence written on it for him, as
someone who had worked with the Americans.
And, fortunately, by sheer will, he did get into the airport with that visa and his passport, and got his family out. And he now lives in the United
But these stories are the successes. They are the one in five or the one in 10, because the vast majority of Afghans who are at risk are still in
AMANPOUR: And, again, it defies what we heard from the US, A, that the SIV program was going to work, don't worry, Kabul will fall, the Taliban will
take over, but we have got the backs of all the people who worked for us and who helped us for 20 years.
And the fact of the matter is, as you point out, that they didn't. And this, though, is what the State Department told us when we reached out for
a response to your article.
So they said to us: "After taking office, we surged resources and staff in order to issue nearly 8,400 SIVs in the first year of this administration.
Of the 124,000 Americans, Afghans and other foreign nationals that the U.S. safely and successfully relocated out of Afghanistan in an unprecedented
effort last August, more than 76,000 Afghans have already arrived in the U.S. to be resettled."
So, everybody, including the press, was describing this airlift back in mid-August as a triumph, as the first ever of its kind. Nothing in the
history of American warfare had taken place on this scale.
What's the reality? Because then we learn that, yes, it was great, but it was mostly Americans who were evacuated.
PACKER: Well, the numbers you cited are somewhat misleading.
It was incredible that, in two weeks, that number of people were brought out of Afghanistan, but those include people on British flights, on
Canadian flights, on private charters, as well as on U.S. government flights. Ninety percent of SIV applicants and their family members were
left behind. Ten percent got out.
So those are the key numbers to keep your mind on when looking at what deserving people to whom we had an obligation actually were evacuated; 10
percent, at most, of SIVs got out.
Then we have to think about the tens or hundreds of thousands of Afghans, activists, journalists, special forces troops like Hawa, judges, people at
risk, people who connected themselves to the American project in Afghanistan and believed our promises, and who discovered in August there
was no plan to get them out at all, nothing.
And we should talk about why there was no plan, because that's the key to the -- the disaster of all of this.
AMANPOUR: So, why was there no plan?
PACKER: Because they didn't want to do what it would have taken to begin evacuations before August.
There was no political will. And that goes to the top, to President Biden, who made it clear that he was not interested in having early flights
leaving various airfields around Afghanistan from the moment he announced the end of the war in April.
We had months to do any number of things, to collect names and contact information and to prepare people to be evacuated. We could have kept our
military in long enough to begin evacuations on a small-scale basis from all the airfields that were still available because the Taliban had not yet
taken them over. We could have appointed an evacuation CZAR to coordinate all the bureaucracy and agencies of the government because this would have
been a complicated, difficult thing to do.
It would have taken political, and there was no political will. There was a fear that if we began bringing in thousands of Afghan Muslims while there
was also a crisis of migrants at the Southern Border that the administration would have been pilloried by the right wing and Fox News for
having an immigration disaster. And so, Afghans, in some sense, were sacrificed on the altar of immigration politics. And so, very, very few
were brought out.
They did accelerate the SIV program, but that was like fixing the deck of the Titanic, while the ship is sinking. You could not get Afghans simply by
speeding up a broken bureaucracy of visa processing. When Kabul and the rest of the country was in imminent danger and outsiders could see that it
AMANPOUR: So, you know, you say lack of political will, you also previously said it went right up to the top, to President Biden himself.
So, let's just remind what you wrote in your article. That even as far back as the winding down in the Vietnam War in 1975, President Biden was on the
Senate floor and kind of proving that his legendary empathy does not extend to foreign nationals no matter how much they help the United States.
He said this, I do not believe the United States has an obligation, moral or otherwise, to evacuate foreign nationals. So, this was about the
Vietnamese who needed to get out of there. Then when Richard Holbrooke, you know well, I know well, the AF-PAK ambassador before he died, said, what
about the obligation to people who trust the U.S.? And Biden used an expletive and said, we don't have to worry about that.
And then, as we famously know in the 2020 campaign, when asked by an interviewer about American responsible to at least the women of
Afghanistan, he said famously, I don't have any responsibility. He did like this, zero responsibility. It was chilling to somebody like me, I have to
say, to see that. How do you explain that? Where did the empathy go?
PACKER: I think, you know, I don't know him. I have interviewed him a few times but I don't know his mind. But his actions showed, especially the
speech he gave the day after Kabul fell when Afghans were trying to get into the airport desperate for their lives. And he essentially pointed the
finger at them and blamed them for their own disaster, cold and chilling, I think Biden has fierce attachments, we know them, to his family, to his
hometown, to his country, to American troops.
But once American troops were not in the picture, once the withdrawal was complete, that empathy did not extend to Khan (ph), to Hawa (ph), to the
Afghans who had counted on us and made a commitment to us, and believed our promises. And it's just -- you know, the decision to end the war is a hard
decision, and there are many arguments in support of it.
What's depressing to me, Christiane, is the how cavalierly we allowed a civil society that had grown up for 20 years to collapse literally
overnight. The future of people like that is over in Afghanistan. And maybe we could never have prevented that, but not to have tried to redeem
something from that 20-year project that gave a measure of hope and freedom to Afghans, I don't understand how the U.S. government managed to walk away
from that so indifferently.
AMANPOUR: So, I do actually want to ask you a key moment around that August 15th day when Kabul fell. And I hadn't seen this before, but this is
a major, it sounds to me like, opportunity that was missed. As Kabul collapsed, the then top Afghan commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, spoke
with the head of U.S. Central Command, who as we know is General Kenneth McKenzie, he offered you right to the United States, control, not of the
airfield, not of the airport only, but all of Kabul to do what the U.S. needed to do to get everybody they needed to get out peacefully and safely.
McKenzie turned that opportunity down. Why?
PACKER: Yes. It was "The Washington Post" that first reported it during the evacuation. McKenzie had his orders from Washington, and they were the
airport perimeter is the extent of our deployment because of risks and because we did not see the city as an area that could be vital to getting
people out of the country through the airport.
Instead, we created a perimeter, a kind of fortress, surrounded by a city that we did not control, which as some military people pointed out to me,
was really a vulnerable position to put ourselves and our troops in, as we found out during the horrific bombing of August 26th.
So, it could have been done through negotiation with the Taliban who had a lot of incentives to work with us, they wanted us out. And if we had said
to them, not just in August but much earlier, we're leaving, but we're taking some Afghans with us, here's who they are and here's how we're
getting them out, Herat, in Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, in Kandahar. So, you're going to let us do that. And if you don't, we're going to have a
And we could have done the same in Kabul. And instead, it's a lack of initiative, a lack of willingness to take some risk in order to discharge
what I think is a debt of honor, and a lot of military and veterans who I spoke to think is an absolute debt of honor, and this has left a
tremendously bad feeling among troops who President Biden always remembers to ask God's protection for but somehow protection for their sense of moral
honor, which comes with making sure they don't leave anyone behind on the battlefield, that was lost. And I think we're going to see a kind of
extensive alienation between civilian and military over that for years to come.
AMANPOUR: George Packer, it's incredible reporting. Thank you so much for joining us.
PACKER: My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: Our next guest was a key witness during Former President Donald Trump's first impeachment trial. Now, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman
is suing several of Trump's closest allies, including his eldest son. And he tells Michel Martin, they tried to intimidate and retaliate against him
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, thank you so much for joining us today.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL ALEXANDER VINDMAN, AUTHOR, "HERE, RIGHTS MATTERS: AN AMERICAN STORY": Very happy to join you. Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Yesterday, in D.C.'s District Court, you filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, the executive vice president of the
Trump organization, Rudy Giuliani, the president's close friend and adviser, often described as his personal attorney. Julia Hahn, former White
House deputy communications director, and Dan Scavino, former White House deputy chief of staff for communications.
Before we get into the substance of the suit, I just wanted to ask, how are you feeling right now?
VINDMAN: I'm -- I have mixed feelings, but I could tell you one of those feelings is I feel righteous. I feel like I'm doing the right thing. I feel
like I'm finally taking a step to hold these folks accountable, these nefarious actors accountable for the things they did to me, to harm my
family and career, and my twin brother who is still serving in uniform that's stigmatized to somehow start to pin back their activities against
But I'm also, frankly, apprehensive. I mean, I'm going to be the target of right-wing media. I'm going to be vilified again. And, you know, it's
almost like picking out a scab, opening an old sore, and I'm just going to have to deal with that.
MARTIN: And why did you feel it was worth it?
VINDMAN: It's the right thing to do. I did what I was supposed to do. I did my duty. I reported wrong doing and abuse of power through official
channels. It ended up becoming the subject of an investigation, an impeachment investigation. I was compelled to testify by way of subpoena.
And at every turn, I looked at and firmly resolved to do what I was supposed to do without shying away from my obligations or succumbing to
And as a result, I was targeted for retaliation and intimidation by Donald Trump, who's obviously written throughout the claim as the person that
advanced this enterprise, a whole bunch of other folks who were complicit, but I wanted to make sure that there was an effort undertaken to start to
hold these folks accountable, expose their wrong doing through the court system, and start to somehow limit their ability, their freedom of maneuver
to attack folks for just doing the right thing.
MARTIN: The lawsuit alleges that Trump and his allies "engaged in an intentional concerted campaign of unlawful intimidation and retaliation
against the sitting director of the National Security Council and decorated military officer, you, to prevent him from and then punish him for
testifying truthfully before Congress for impeachment proceedings against president Trump."
So, a couple of questions here, why these four in particular, and what do you allege that they did?
VINDMAN: Sure. So, these four folks, there's a great deal of evidence to suggest that these four folks were directly involved in the campaign of
intimidation. If you read through the complaint, you'll see, you know, numerous references to Donald Trump Jr.'s action, it's clear by other
people's testimony, including Donald Trump's previous personal attorney, Cohen, that Don Jr. doesn't take any action without the blessing or the
instruction of his father.
Julia Hahn, she's on record sending forward a series of attack talking points that were supposed to go to right-wing media outlets, and ham
handedly, they were distributed more widely. That's listed in the complaint. Also, Scavino was responsible for communications, he was the one
that helped orchestrate or realize, you know, when Donald Trump wasn't communicating directly with the media or with Fox News, which -- there's a
clear record of him doing so. Don -- Dan Scavino was the one that was fulfilling his mandates, he was the one that was handling the Twitter
account that attacked me.
I mean -- and Rudy Giuliani, he also personally attacked me and was, obviously, complicit in the first impeachment and, you know, looking for
all and every way to keep Donald Trump in power and to attack the president's opponents, whether they were intentionally opponents or not. In
my case, I was not looking to opposed the president. I was just giving truthful testimony.
So, I think we'll show these folks do meet the burden of proof to hold them accountable. I think we will uncover -- this is just the tip of the
iceberg, we'll uncover a lot more nefarious actors, other folks that were complicit in retaliation and intimidation and bullying the folks that
basically orchestrated the termination of my military career, the folks that threatened and intimidated me and my family, and continue to affect
the career of my twin brother.
MARTIN: Talk a little bit more, if you would, about what led to your decision to take this course of action, because I don't think it's just
about having your say, because as you -- as, you know, you've written a book, which has been well received, called "Here, Right Matters." So, in
substance, you know, you've had your say. Clearly, you feel that having your say is not sufficient.
Could you talk a little bit more about what your hope and expectation is for this lawsuit? I mean, and also, I'm curious to think if you feel that
the legal system, the criminal justice system, even the political system for demanding accountability isn't doing what it's supposed to do.
VINDMAN: In certain regards, I think that's a great place to start. I think the political system is hyper polarized and in certain ways, has been
so heavily propagandized, at least on one side that there is no willingness on the part of Republicans to hold the president to account. I can't
imagine any other administration at any point in the past that would be so beholden to President Trump either out of looking to profit, looking to
serve their interests or from fear of retaliation, like I was retaliating against, it had an enormous chilling effect to be the subject of the
president's attacks and tweets. So, I think there's not enough being done on the political front.
I know that the courts, I have every reason to believe that they will do their job. They have their independent court system that will look at the
evidence and it will help illuminate the wrong doings of the Trump administration, the way they dealt with their corruption and the way they
dealt with officials, attempted to silence officials, intimidate officials from doing duties. I think all these things come to bear.
You are absolutely right. You know, I probably could have let sleeping dogs lie with a book. But there's -- that's only kind of like, you know, for
those that wish to read about this or listen to what I have to say about how I've been treated is not the same thing as accountability for the
courts, where there's a judgment by court of wrong doing, and then the punishment opposed.
I think it's the -- both of toes that are essential. It's the punishment in particular that could start to have an effect on reducing the freedom of
folks like Don Jr. or Fox News to act with impunity, to have a free hand in attacking people and not suffering any consequences.
MARTIN: You wrote -- you published an op-ed in USA Today yesterday morning. You wrote, 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 pay back. Congress recognized this in 1871 when
it passed a federal law intended to prohibit conspiracies to intimidate and retaliate against witnesses and federal officials carrying out their
What have the last two years been like for you? If you don't mind sharing. I mean, I think that people, you know, often people like yourself who have
been career public servants, who aren't used to being in the public sphere don't talk a lot about what day-to-day life is like when you're under that
spotlight. And so, if you don't mind, I would like to hear more about that.
VINDMAN: Sure. Of course. I could almost encapsulate it in one word, which is uncertainty. There's been an enormous amount of uncertainty for me and
my family. It's been a struggle for all of us. I had a very successful military career that was -- you know, hadn't reached its climax yet. It was
still on ascend. I have done some fantastic things. I knew where my paychecks were coming from. I had a good sense of where I would be. I had a
good idea of how I would be able to contribute to our National Security.
And since then, I have had to build a whole new life. You know, one chapter closed, another chapter opened. I made -- I resolved for myself that I was
not going to be knocked down by this. On my first day out of uniform, I kind of laid out a benchmark for what I wanted to do. I wanted to continue
to contribute to National Security, advance U.S. security interests. I wanted to speak up and hold people accountable, which is what this is
about, and that's really what I'm doing. But in spite of that, there's been an enormous amount of unpredictability.
One thing that I did saddle on was committing myself to working on a degree and working on a doctorate for Johns Hopkins, to continue to develop
myself, to weigh in on National Security issues. The topic at hand right now, of course, in the National Security sphere is Russia's looming war
against Ukraine, and I have been able to contribute to that discussion. And in certain ways, I think nudge actions that I think are appropriate for the
U.S. government to take to avoid this kind of catastrophic war.
And now, this is just another front. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the public eye. Now, I'm not going to squander that opportunity. I'm
not going to, you know, remain silent when I think I could do something useful, and that's what this is about.
MARTIN: We've reached out for comment from Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and Julia Hahn, as of this moment, we have not heard any response
from them, have you?
VINDMAN: I have not. I think they're, you know -- I'm sure they're receiving counsel and staying low for the time being. I think this is
actually, in certain ways, indicates a -- that this was the right thing to do. Because under normal circumstances, if it was just rhetorical, it was a
book or some other form of criticism, they would probably be out there and, you know, spinning lies and attacking. And now, this is going to be taken
into the courts.
The courts will determine that -- ultimately, the courts will determine that these figures and more violated the Ku Klux Klan Act that they were
involved in a conspiracy to retaliate against me, to attack me and to prevent me from doing my duties and to punish me from doing my duties. And
I think they recognize the reality of this and are concerned about it.
MARTIN: CNN made a request for comment also of those four -- of the four. A lawyer representing Dan Scavino responded, see you in court.
VINDMAN: I look forward to that day. I very much look forward to seeing them in court and having them answer for their actions, having the vast
amount of evidence of their wrong doing on the table in front of the judge and the jury, and I look forward to seeing them in court.
MARTIN: I'm happy to have the opportunity to speak with you today. I see you're nicely attired in your, you know, civilian business suit, but do you
still miss that uniform?
VINDMAN: I think you see some of the accoutrements of my military service behind me. These are part of who I am. That American flag that's over my
right shoulder flew over the U.S. embassy in Moscow when I served there between 2012 and 2015. Those colors on my left, those are my flag from when
I was commander of one of the units actually that's going out to the border of Russia right now, the Second Calgary Regiment that's in Germany.
There are only three infantry units there, there's a one in three chance that some of the folks in my unit are now moving forward towards Poland and
Romania, and I'm deeply proud of my military service. I think my military service made me who I am. It's given me the perspective to not be bullied
into fear, into cowering when attacked and to strike back and I'm very, very proud of my military service. I'm proud of the military and what it
stands for. I mean, I was truly blessed to be able to serve 21 1/2 years in uniform.
MARTIN: Before I let you go, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, I just wanted to ask a couple of questions about the current situation. Some of which ties
to your experience, which is, when did the political right become so enamored of Russia? I'm just sort of -- how do you understand that? I mean,
it just seems that your testimony, that of others, suggests that Ukraine of all of the former Soviet Republics is the one that is pursuing a democratic
MARTIN: And even some difficulties in sort of formulating a civil society, I mean, so did the United States when it was new. So, I'm just curious,
when did the political right become so enamored of Russia to the point where there is an effort to discredit Ukraine. Do you know why? Do you have
VINDMAN: I do know. I can tell you exactly when the political right turned away from righteousness, away from a defense of U.S. National Security,
away from U.S. values, it was under the Trump administration. It was in those months in 2019 when President Trump and his corruption and his abuse
of power were brought into the public eye and when President Trump started to intimidate the right and forced them to fall in behind him.
Ukraine, as you pointed out, is a young democracy. It's 30 years old. It has been struggling to overcome the legacy of 70 years of Soviet control.
Before that, for a large portions of Ukraine, centuries of Russian control. And in spite of that, it's charted its own path. The fortitude that is
required to chart its own path manner, break with the almost unbreakable ties with Russia, all the economic ties, all the infrastructure ties and
start to pivot towards the West and to democracy is a stunning and amazing feat.
They have had issues. There are still -- there were supporters, a lot of supporters for Russia, not as many as Putin claims. There were still an
overwhelming minority. But they -- those folks have now fallen off. They almost don't exist. Part of it is because Russia has sectioned off the
parts of Ukraine that were most ethnically Russian, most for Russian. And now, you have a much more coherent Ukraine.
This is why Putin is acting. Ukraine has drifted away from the Russian sphere of influence, from Russia's grasp and this is Vladimir Putin's
effort to pull Ukraine back in. Ultimately, I'm slightly more hopeful that all the pressure that President Biden has undertaken with his successful
diplomatic track, with building cohesion amongst allies may still have an effect, but I think we shouldn't overestimate the influence that the U.S.
has on the situation or that U.S. and NATO has on the situation.
This is deeply important issue to Vladimir Putin. He wants Ukraine into his -- his sphere of influence. He has the military power and the wherewithal
to take action, and I think it's still likely to happen.
MARTIN: You do? You do think it's still likely to happen?
VINDMAN: Yes, I think it's likely to happen. It's going to be very, very bloody. And U.S. interests -- I'll say some people don't think there are
clear U.S. interests here. There are clear U.S. interests. I laid out the values case for U.S. involvement in Ukraine.
But the interest case is even more compelling. The interest case is that Ukraine is a bullwork against aggression, against authoritarianism. It's on
the frontier defending democracy. Other authoritarian regimes will certainly follow the example of Russia in this case. And more importantly,
this is going to generate an enormous amount of instability on Europe's frontiers, on Europe's boundary, and we already see the slippery slope that
I feared when I wrote about this both in the "New York Times" and the Foreign Affairs article, that we see a slippery slope.
The Baltics, Poland, the U.K., have already said that they're going to support Ukraine. We'll see what the limits of support are. But then the
Russian have to contend with this external support to their major offensive that's getting ready to unfold. Cyber-attacks, information operations,
electronic warfare is going to slip over from Ukraine.
When they conduct their massive attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, when they launch their offensive, it's going to spread to
other regions. This is not going to be sterile. That's why we should be doing everything we can to protect U.S. interests to prevent this from
MARTIN: Alexander Vindman, retired army lieutenant colonel, the author of "Here, Right Matters", thank you so much for speaking with us today.
VINDMAN: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, the Olympic Torch has reached the Great Wall of China in the hands of these Chinese Olympic medalists. The flame is on its
way to light the Olympic Cauldron at tomorrow's opening ceremony, in China's National Stadium or the Bird's Nest.
Joining us on the program tomorrow will be its architect, the artist, Ai Weiwei, now living in self-imposed exile. He's become disillusioned with
his homeland. And he's speaking out on the implication of an Olympics taking place in an increasingly totalitarian state.
That is it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online and on our podcast. Thanks for watching, and good-bye from London.