Former White House chief of staff John Kelly vigorously defended former National Security Council staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman in a speaking event at Drew University in New Jersey on Wednesday night, according to a report in the Atlantic, telling students Vindman acted lawfully when he reported his concerns about President Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, told a crowd of students and others, according to the Atlantic. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”
Vindman was escorted from grounds of the White House on Friday, just days after Trump was acquitted of impeachment charges in the Republican-controlled Senate for pressuring the president of Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals as he held up millions in US military aid. Vindman, who listened in on the call, reported his concerns to superiors and testified before the House Intelligence Committee last fall after he was subpoenaed by House Democrats.
His lawyer said in a statement after his removal that “the truth has cost Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy."
Trump quickly responded to Kelly’s remarks, tweeting Thursday morning that Kelly “can’t keep his mouth shut” and suggesting Kelly was bound by a legal agreement that prevents him from speaking.
....which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do. His incredible wife, Karen, who I have a lot of respect for, once pulled me aside & said strongly that “John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.” Wrong!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020
During the speech and in a Q&A session that followed, Kelly also broke with Trump in several other areas, criticizing him over his decision to intervene on behalf of controversial Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who was found guilty of posing for a photo with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter. Trump prevented the Navy from removing Gallagher, a decision Kelly called “exactly the wrong thing to do.”
Kelly, who left the White House in January 2019, said according to the article that he thought he would have been able to prevent Trump’s intervention had he remained chief of staff.
On immigration, Kelly, who served as Homeland Security secretary before being named chief of staff, said it was “wrong” to call migrants rapists and murderers. President Trump has frequently sought to cast undocumented immigrants as violent criminals, and he began his candidacy for president in 2015 by declaring Mexico was sending “rapists” and drug dealers to the US.
“In fact, they’re overwhelmingly good people,” Kelly said, adding that he disagreed with Trump “a number of times,” though as head of DHS, Kelly was responsible for implementing Trump’s border and immigration policies.