Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but Alexander Vindman said the strong moral convictions on which he’s lived his entire life wouldn’t have allowed him to have done otherwise.
The retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel has no regrets about the damning congressional testimony he gave in 2019 as part of the impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump. A career officer who served America with great distinction, Vindman was working with the National Security Council when he testified that Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a 2019 phone call to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, who was running for president.
Vindman, who had spent more than 21 years in the military, was aware that there would be immediate retaliation from the president and his supporters, but he knew what had to be done.
“I don’t think I would change a thing,” he said recently. “To me, it was a relatively simple decision to do my duty and fulfill my obligations. I swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Vindman will speak with Mason students about the decision that ultimately led to his dismissal from the NSC and retirement from the Army, as well as about ethical dilemmas, professional values and his own personal faith during a virtual evening of reflection at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28, on Zoom. Those who wish to attend “Doing the Right Thing: Facing Ethical Dilemmas in Public Service” may register here. The virtual discussion is organized by Mason’s Judaic Studies Council.
Vindman will be introduced by Mason President Gregory Washington, and the discussion will be moderated by Charles Chavis, the director of the John Mitchell Jr. Program, and Ann Ardis, the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Ardis welcomed the opportunity for students to hear from Vindman.
“[This event] features the important role the humanities play in helping our students deepen their understanding of complex moral and ethical questions, so they can make extraordinary contributions to their communities as engaged citizens," she said.
Born in Kiev to a Jewish family, Vindman came to the United States with his two brothers, his father and his maternal grandmother following his mother’s death. He burst onto the national spotlight in 2019 when he testified during the first impeachment trial.
He joined the National Security Council in 2018, where he helped implement the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy. In this role, he was one of a number of people on the controversial July 25, 2019, phone call in which Trump is alleged to have asked a foreign government to investigate an American citizen for personal political gain.
His testimony during the impeachment trial resulted in retaliation from Trump, who fired him from the NSC and also ousted his twin brother, who was also an Army officer serving at the NSC but not involved in the impeachment proceedings.
But compromising his values was never a thought for Vindman.
“It’s really important to recognize that over a lifetime of public service, you’re exposed to and internalize a set of values,” he said. “They become very important to you. It’s something you try to emulate and train your subordinates to and to live those values.”
He was warned of the consequences if he testified before Congress, but went through with it.
“I could have been intimidated and cowed into retracting my perspective or I could have followed through on my convictions,” Vindman said. “It was pretty straight forward.”
The virtual event will closely examine the many ethical decisions Vindman faced, said Na’ama Gold, the director of Mason Hillel and one of the event’s organizers.
The role that faith can play in commitment to ethical public service will also be a topic of discussion at the event.
Among the event’s sponsors are the Department of Religious Studies, the John Mitchell Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race, the Honors College, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), University Life, Mason Hillel, Chabad of GMU, the Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter at GMU, the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
During the event, the role of Jewish values and philosophy in particular will be expanded upon by Susannah Heschel, who is the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.