The One He Fired and the One He Commuted

By Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack (retired)

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NBC News anchor Lester Holt’s recent interview with former Army officer and National Security Council staff member, retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, raises the contrast between someone Donald Trump fired, and Roger Stone, someone whose felony conviction he recently commuted.

Voters in this year’s election should consider Trump’s contrasting treatment of these two men.

Vindman’s and his family’s journey is a classic American success story. Born in the then Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1975, Vindman moved with his father and two brothers to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn following his mother’s death in 1978. Upon graduation from the State University of New York at Binghamton and his Army ROTC commissioning from Cornell University, Vindman entered the infantry and completed the demanding Ranger School. He served in South Korea and in 2004, was deployed to Iraq, where he was injured by an improvised explosive device, receiving the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Purple Heart.

Later, Vindman earned a master’s degree in Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian studies from Harvard and became an Army Foreign Area Officer serving in both the American embassies in Kiev and Moscow. He worked for me in Moscow during the challenging 2012–2014 period that included Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His performance was stellar. From 2015 to 2018, Vindman served as an adviser on Russia to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff where he was also promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and then selected for the prestigious National Security Council.

On October 28th, 2019, LTC Vindman, testified before the House Intelligence Committee and the nation that he heard President Trump demand Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political opponent, to gain advantage in the 2020 election.

The response to this testimony was swift and decisive. Vindman and his identical twin brother, Yevgeny, who also served on the NSC as a legal affairs officer, were removed from their White House jobs. In short, they were fired and reassigned to the Army.

When President Trump was asked whether Vindman should be removed, he responded: “Well, I’m not happy with him. You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.” Vindman, who had the courage to maintain his oath to “uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic,” then announced his retirement after an exemplary 21-year career serving the U.S. His lawyer issued a statement saying that he did so because of a campaign of bullying and intimidation by the Trump White House.

Now consider the contrast between Vindman and long-time Republican political operative and Trump loyalist, Roger Stone.

Stone began his dirty tricks political career during the Nixon administration and subsequently worked for several Republican candidates. For several years, Stone was also a lobbyist for Trump’s casinos and was one of Trump’s longest-serving political consultants, although the two had an uneven relationship. At one point, Trump even dismissed Stone as “a stone-cold loser.” Despite the rocky nature of their relationship, Stone served in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign until he quit (according to Stone) or was fired (according to Trump).

In 2019, Stone was unanimously convicted of seven felonies for his illegal activities in the 2016 campaign: five related to lying under oath and two for tampering with witnesses.

According to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a decorated combat Marine during the Vietnam War and a 10-year director of the FBI, “Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence agents.” Mueller concluded: “Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.” This is the man whose sentence Trump commuted.

Americans face a clear choice in 2020: re-elect Donald Trump, who recently commuted the sentence of a felon convicted for lying under oath and who fired a decorated combat veteran, or elect Joe Biden, an experienced, empathetic statesman, who has stood for the rule of law throughout his career. The choice could not be starker during this pivotal moment in our history.

Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack (retired) was the U.S. Defense Attache to Russia from 2012–2014. He also served as a senior army intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Kosovo, South Korea, and U.S. Army Europe. He is currently a Wilson Center Global Fellow within the Kennan Institute. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of BG Zwack.

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