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LTC Alexander Vindman: Fighting Authoritarianism

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LTC Alexander Vindman: Fighting Authoritarianism

In 2019, Alex provided testimony that led to Donald Trump’s first impeachment, and foreshadowed Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine.

In this episode, he discusses his decision to blow the whistle, the authoritarianism of the Trump White House, and the stakes of the war in Ukraine.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is an army vet and former director for European affairs for the National Security Council. In October of 2019, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was subpoenaed by Congress as part of the impeachment proceeding against President Trump. His testimony revealed that the president threatened to withhold vital assistance to Ukraine until that country's leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to investigate Joe Biden.

Ken Harbaugh:

Hi everyone, it’s Ken. Before we start, I want to share some exciting news: We’ve paired with Meidas Touch, so you can now watch these interviews on YouTube. Just search for the Meidas Touch YouTube channel, or click the link in the show description. Thanks, and enjoy the episode.

Alex Vindman:

When all this is said and done, what I'm concerned about is that neo-Nazi right guy then thinking that they've knocked out Putin, eliminating the liberal factions, and then forget about a nationalist government like Putin. You have another neo-Nazi regime come to power.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, an army vet and former director for European affairs for the National Security Council. In October of 2019, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was subpoenaed by Congress as part of the impeachment proceeding against President Trump. His testimony revealed that the president threatened to withhold vital assistance to Ukraine until that country's leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to investigate Joe Biden.

Alex, it is great to talk to you again. Thanks for joining me here.

Alex Vindman:

Hey, thanks for having me on, Ken.

Ken Harbaugh:

I want to go back to that infamous call, or that perfect call as some have characterized it. Did you ever imagine when you chose to report what you'd heard, did you run worst case scenarios through your head? Did you think we could possibly be where we are today with the Ukrainian people fighting for their right to exist? Or were you simply acting on principle, reporting what you'd heard because you knew what the president had done was wrong?

Alex Vindman:

It was mainly the latter. Mainly I was reporting what I knew was wrong. It was my duty to try to make, as we call it in the military, make an on the spot correction. Don't walk by a mistake. That was certainly part of it in terms of the fact that I knew what I had to do with absolute clarity, but I also was the director for European affairs. I understood the stakes and what this might mean for US national security, what it would mean for regional stability, and that this kind of fix, this kind of corruption could play out in a worst case scenario.

Frankly, this scenario is beyond any of the worst case scenarios that I quickly ran through my mind, but it could play out where Russia thought Ukraine was vulnerable. It was the time to strike, whatever that meant. That didn't necessarily mean at the time full scale war, but that was the fear in the back of my mind, that it meant that the US president could be bought for enabling his corruption by the Russians. It meant that it could politicize a national security issue that I'd been working diligently to keep out of the political sphere as this corrupt scheme was unfolding, and various evil doers were or attempting to interfere in good policy making. I saw all these things kind of unfolding.

I also, in certain ways, understood maybe the tip of the iceberg in terms of some personal risk associated with this, that very quickly, I ended up being the target of retaliation within the White House because I wasn't seen as loyal anymore. The months between the phone call, that July 25th phone call, and testifying in front of Congress at the end of October, I had a great deal of opportunity to ponder what could have possibly unfolded. Maybe I could have followed the advice. It was against or every fiber of my being, but my attorneys would've been much more comfortable if I followed their advice and was a reluctant to witness and provided yes or no answers and attempted to minimize my own risk or use the lifeline of not testifying, because the present, he didn't forbid me from testifying, there was no prohibition. It was indicated that there would be top cover for people that chose not to do that. It was active, with a great deal of forethought, if not in the immediate report, certainly by the time I testified in front of Congress, with understanding the stakes and so forth.

Ken Harbaugh:

I reread your book here, Right Matters yesterday, getting ready for this interview. This passage just jumped off the page at me.

You wrote,

"If you ignored and denied what you knew about the evil and incompetence of the system, never questioned authority and sucked up to the right people, you could continue to prosper. But if you couldn't ignore and deny what you knew, if your moral compass was too true for that, you faced a number of prospects, none of them good."

I think most listeners might think you were describing the Trump administration. You are actually describing the conditions in Soviet dominated Ukraine that your father, an engineer in the bureaucracy, had to deal with. The similarities, and I'm sure the way you characterize them, it's not an accident, your framing of them that way, right?

Alex Vindman:

Exactly. I think that's right. You could easily take it as the Trump administration versus the Soviet Union. In fact, I think that the Trump administration is the worst case scenario in terms of governance, retaliation, corruption, self-service, and things of that nature. But I don't think it would be that much easier if it was any other administration stepping forward challenging the president on something criminal or wrong. The stakes for any whistleblower are extremely high. It's something frankly, I deal with to this day that I'm still radioactive.

My twin brother, this is his first day off active duty. Yesterday was his last day. In a lot of ways he validated my thinking on the fact that there was no prospects for a continued career in the military, which attempts to try to be apolitical, but it's also quite political in the jockeying and the bureaucracy, and thought it was too having a Vindman, either me or my twin brother for that matter in the active duty ranks was too dangerous. He was marginalized just like I was.

I guess the point that I'm making is that it's dangerous to act on principle, to exercise moral courage in general. It's more dangerous in a Trump authoritarian-like world. It certainly resembles maybe an authoritarian regime, but the differences are that in an authoritarian regime, I would've been killed. I would've ended up falling out of a hospital window or something like one of the Russian oligarchs did today.

Ken Harbaugh:

I think it was the chairman of the board of Lukoil got “defenestrated,” as they say.

Alex Vindman:

Exactly. Yes.

Ken Harbaugh:

Fell out of a hospital window. You obviously did not. That fate did not befall you, but you received just an avalanche of harassment, not just the random online kind, but targeted harassment from government officials. You chose to fight back against that as well. Are you able to give us an update on the lawsuit that you filed?

Alex Vindman:

Sure. Its harassment, intimidation, and retaliation are basically the hallmarks of a mafia organization, and the Trump administration for folks that are perceived to run against the president's interests. As a result of being forced out of the military and ending, frankly, a successful prospective military career where I would've gone on to do other good things for this country I would hope. I basically recognized that there was no opportunity. We have to remember that the environment was the administration, the Trump administration, blocked my promotion to Colonel for many months. You have the president's chief of staff on the record saying, "This guy will not get promoted," being attacked and vilified by the Trump administration, the right wing media, which frankly, the centerpiece of that is Fox News, and the Senate, which has to also provide consent to the promotion. There was really no prospects and I would've been holding up a bunch of other officers from being promoted. I filed the lawsuit.

We're now at the stage where just a couple of days ago, the defendants were given an opportunity and afforded an opportunity to respond to the claim. They made their motions to dismiss. We made a counter motion substantiating why this case should move forward. They had a chance to respond. Now it's in the court's hands, in the judge's hands, to take action.

But we're, frankly for me, a success would be over the course of the next couple of months sooner, rather than later, there's a discovery and there's an opportunity to dig into the White House actions, the communications. We know that they were quite sloppy in their crimeing, and frankly, to get a chance to see how they've behaved. The whole idea is to brush back on all these henchmen that believed they could act with impunity without suffering consequences, that there are consequences in a court, and really undermine the ability of these types of figures to go after officials that are conducting their duties.

Ken Harbaugh:

You described them as henchmen. Even the DOD was cowed by the folks going after you. The Pentagon didn't exactly have your back on this. Looking at how your brother was treated as well, it has to strike you as unbelievably unfair that your twin brother is unceremoniously retired, a rank below he deserves, while someone like Mike Flynn's brother, is promoted.

Alex Vindman:

Yeah. It's a tough pill to swallow. The fact is, the story hasn't been fully written. I think this is just another chapter. To a T, the senior military leaders that were involved in this would swear up and down that they did everything they could. They attempted to secure, they attempted to act in a way that wouldn't have negatively affected my career. But in fact, that's clearly not the case. My twin brother, that just happens to share a last name and a face, he was ostracized also. These folks are going to have to live with the consequences of their actions. They built a career on values, adhering to army values. I don't think this is one of those things they're going to look fondly back on. I think occasionally they'll be reminded of the fact that they fell short of their obligations as leaders.

Ken Harbaugh:

I want to talk about the stakes that you perceived when you put your career on the line, and possibly your life on the line. Your brother was asked to do the same. It was at a time when Russian revanchism was on the rise, when we had a willing, or maybe an unwitting agent of Putin in the White House, and a lonely beacon of democracy in Volodymyr Zelenskyy begging for help. You raised the flag long before most people realized the dangers.

Just a couple of days before the invasion, you tweeted this out, you wrote:

"A great deal of the GOP leadership will have blood on their hands." This is before the tanks rolled. "They're fanning flames, encouraging Putin to attack Ukraine. Putin and his regime perceive opportunities because such fools suggest the US is weak, divided, and distracted."

That perfect call, in which the leader of Ukraine was essentially blackmailed over an investigation into Joe Biden, had geopolitical strategic ramifications and the lives of hundreds of thousands at stake. We see that playing out now. As a Ukrainian American, as an American first and foremost, though, how do you think about the years that have passed since that call and all that has unfolded because of President Trump's complicity?

Alex Vindman:

It's one of those things that… these are way above my pay grade, way outside of my span of control, but it's one of those things that I keep asking myself, “Could I have done more?” “What more could I have done?” It's interesting. I'm going to be turning in my doctoral dissertation on US relations with Ukraine since 1991, so I'm looking at the breadth of the 30 years leading up to this major escalation in 2022. The war started in 2014. I could tick off in my head, how we moved towards this confrontation. Multiple data points in the 2000s. We didn't do enough after Russia's attempts to interfere in Ukrainian elections in 2004, didn't do enough when Russia basically said it's going to use all means to establish a privileged fear of influence. Then it attacked Georgia. Then 2014, all sorts. They attacked our own elections here in the US in 2016. We didn't do enough along the way, but if we see those milestones as meaningful points in the path towards this war, I would say the Trump administration as a whole was a leap. It was a surge towards a confrontation, both in this war that Ukraine is paying the price for, but frankly, quite possibly a war that the US is going to be directly involved in. This war is likely to go on for quite a few more months, and with the significant prospects of spillover. That is Trump's fault. That is the Republicans fault that enabled Trump, that suggested that the US was weak and distracted, that suggested that we were going to not live up to the rhetoric of ironclad support for Ukraine.

That phone call set off a series of events that precipitated Putin's invasion in 2022. I would say it was a major milestone in Putin thinking, okay, the US is not going to be there. What we should take from this episode is that we don't determine outcomes around the world. We weren't able to determine outcomes in Afghanistan. But what we do matters, because other people listen. When the politicians, the Republicans, chose to look the other way when the president was apparently corrupt, attempted to extort a strategic partner for an investigation, and wasn't held accountable, when the Republican party then proceeds to shift their views on pushing back on Russian aggression, pushing back on the surging authoritarianism, other places around the world pay attention.

You can't have leadership, whether that's former secretary Pompeo, or various... Tucker Carlson, who's the mouthpiece for the Republicans, or any number of Republican figures, Ron Johnson running for office, say something, and then believe that it's just politics, it doesn't mean anything. It has real world implications, or it has real world consequences. Frankly, many people are suffering because of these folks, terrible leadership, self self-service. I don't even know. There's all sorts of negative profane things to be said, but we'll just leave it at that.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, Tucker Carlson gets almost as much air time in Russia on state TV there as he gets on Fox News. Aiding and abetting the enemy is a real thing.

Alex Vindman:

He should be getting royalties or something. I hope they're paying him for all the time that he gets on air.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yea. Remind people why we shouldn't think of this as some remote regional conflict. I think before the Ukraine war, most Americans probably didn't realize, most probably don't still, that it's the largest country in Europe holding the line against the largest country by land mass, period. This is not some small isolated conflict. It has the potential to flare up.

Alex Vindman:

Sure. I think, frankly, I think most of your listeners get it at this point, because the polling that I've seen come out says that 80% of the American public is behind Ukraine. 76% of the public believes that there should be more sanctions, and 72% of the public wants to arm Ukraine more heavily. We don't agree on anything in the United States, but you have that large support base for Ukraine. People get it.

But you made one of the points, the geographic point, which is just in terms of earth land masses, the amount of the earth that's involved in a war right now is massive. I think frankly, the last time this much of a land mass was at war was World War II, where you had this much territory in confrontation with each other. Besides that, Russia and Ukraine control a massive amount of food stuffs. That's really caused some massive disruptions, frankly, toppled some governments, like in Sri Lanka. Fortunately there was enough pressure put on Russia where some of those food stuffs were transited for the food out of wheats and sunflower oil, which about 80% of sunflower oil comes from Ukraine. Corn is now being distributed far below the traditional thresholds of 15 super max tankers a day. I think the high point's been six or something like that. I could be wrong on the statistics. Frankly, I don't recall, but that sounds right to me from what I remember. It's a much, much higher throughput, so there's not nearly enough coming through, but there's something, so people aren't going to be starving around the world at least because Russia wants to use that as a means to apply pressure on Ukraine to end the war.

That's another one. Oil, gas. That's had a direct impact on us pocketbooks, because Russia has disrupted the oil and gas flows, it's caused a huge amount of inflation in prices. Of course, the Biden administration has been quite effective in tamping down on that, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. I'm not sure. I don't think anybody frankly thought that the US, either by releasing strategic reserves, or using diplomacy to have other countries step up and increase their production would have this significant effect. It's had a pretty darn significant effect. We're talking about more than a 25% decrease in prices for gasoline. That's another area.

But it's also the second largest military in the world. Second most powerful, correction. By size, especially with this latest increase in force structure that they're looking for, it's probably right up there, right behind China. It's got the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and the prospects of a spillover in Russia's frustration or an accident or miscalculation or an attack on this nuclear power plant in Ukraine, all these things will have a direct impact on US security, will have a direct impact on European security in that Europe is our most important partner, trading partner, bedrock of our security through NATO and so forth.

So yes, this has direct implications and relevance. Then the last thing I'll mention is, we tend to not do very well with large European wars. They tend to drag us in. We've had a couple of precedents for that.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yes. Back to back champs, but at some cost, we should note. You're doing analysis now for CNN. Can you bring us up to date on the tactical situation inside Ukraine? Because it has been shifting rapidly, especially around Kherson.

Alex Vindman:

Sure. I'm basically fortunate and I'm not on anybody's team. I'm an independent agent being able to talk to CNN and MSNBC, NBC.

But I had just had a trip there. It's been a week back from Ukraine, a little bit more than a week back. I learned some interesting things.

First of all, this war is likely to be longer than I was suspecting before I went to Ukraine. One of the things I learned about is that while Russia has taken devastating losses, some formations have been depleted to 50% strength, Ukraine's also taken significant losses. They've taken about 30%, or more, losses in their company grade officers, in their lieutenants and captains. Those are the folks that lead the tactical formations that achieve battlefield successes, that stack up to operational strategic successes. It's hard to operate without having small unit leadership. You invest a lot of time. You invest five years into lieutenant. You invest close to 10 years in a captain. That's a generation of officers that have been wiped out.

I think Ukraine has a reasonable chance of achieving some successes in Kherson. I would put it at a coin flip, as to whether they're going to be able to liberate that area, mainly because of these shortfalls in personnel, in combat power. We've also largely equipped Ukraine to hold and not to win. Our strategy is not to give them everything they need in order to win the war against Russia, it's to wear down the Russians and force the Russians to negotiate, which is a recipe for disaster, frankly, because that means a long war, a long war that as we've discussed has every possibility of spilling over. It's just a deeply flawed approach to this critical crisis that could become an existential crisis to the US. But they have a reasonable chance of success.

If they're on the winning side of that coin flip, they'll be able to liberate the region of Kherson. They'll be able to push the Russians basically across to this massive river, kind of looks like the Mississippi at some wide points. That's basically an impenetrable obstacle for the Russians once they've been kicked across to the south side of the river.

What that means practically is that Ukraine's support city of Odessa is no longer under threat. Mykolaiv, another major city, is no longer under threat. Kryvyi Rih, which is President Zelenskyy's hometown, industrial town, is no longer under threat. But more importantly, it gives the Ukrainians additional room to push up their HIMARS and punish Russian forces deeper. It allows Ukraine to establish minimal force structure on the river, because it doesn't take that much to defend it. You'll see those guys coming from a long ways away, and you could have some reserve units come in and plaster them while they're in the water. Then they could take all that combat power there, the brigades and brigades, and shift them to liberating territory around Kharkiv, even east. You could then frankly see legitimately a broader Russian collapse in that kind of scenario.

I think it's way too close to call. I think there's a reasonable chance of success. It's the last real prospect for a short war. If the Ukrainians cannot do this, this is going to play out over the course of maybe up to another year, as far as I can see, through the winter where hostilities decrease a little bit, through a spring and some are offensive and things of that nature. But if the Ukrainians are successful, Russia might be compelled to sue for peace.

At the same time, we have to it doesn't stop just because the Ukrainians don't hold that territory. There'll be just a lot of attritional warfare, positional warfare, and meanwhile, a lot more unrest.

The other thing I learned when I was in Ukraine is that there are all sorts of weird forces assembling to push back on the Putin regime. I had this interesting lunch interaction with a contact of mine, who's kind of on the left side of the spectrum, socialist, former government official, Russian government official in exile, sitting across the table from a inveterate neo-Nazi. Completely opposite ends of the spectrum and they're basically coming up with, they're talking about plans to put pressure on Putin's regime internally. The way they intend to do that is basically violent attacks. These fire bombings of the military recruiting stations, all these types of things are likely to keep unfolding, as well as economic pressure from sanctions, as well as dealing with the consequences of thousands and thousands of casualties. This is just going to get more and more difficult, more and more complex.

Ken Harbaugh:

Those research facilities then, and other industrial centers that are going up in flames that we occasionally hear about, those are attacks, is what you're hearing.

Alex Vindman:

That's what I'm hearing.

Ken Harbaugh:

I guess it suggests that Putin doesn't have as iron of a grip on the country as he would like everyone to believe.

Alex Vindman:

What's interesting is that he has a very, very sturdy grip. He has nearly endless tools of repression, but you also have an equally committed opposition that, especially in Putin's weakness, when the Russian military is struggling, will see some opportunities. Frankly, when all this is said and done, what I'm concerned about is that neo-Nazi right guy then thinking that they've knocked out Putin, eliminating the liberal factions, and then forget about a nationalist government like Putin. You have another neo-Nazi regime come to power. These are the chains of event of events that have now started to unwind as a result of a war between Russia and Ukraine, a war in which it's likely to be not a six month war, but a yearlong war or longer, and with more of these types of things that are hard to forecast. There were plenty of things I forecasted and I've written about, potentially NATO countries just choosing on their own to step in and support Ukraine. A lot of that's happened with regards to weapons, but if Ukraine was under greater pressure, I could see Poland stepping in. You could see a nuclear accident.

I couldn't say that I thought that Putin would be brought down by violent insurrections. I thought that was a low probability scenario, but maybe it's not as low as I would've guessed some months back.

Ken Harbaugh:

I want to pivot to threats to democracy here at home. You probably saw the recent poll that listed that concern as the top voter concern in the run up to the November elections. That's shocking in the economic environment we're in. It's shocking after the Dobbs case, which overturned Roe, that Americans are waking up to the threats to democracy itself. Do you take some reassurance in that result?

Alex Vindman:

I do. I've heard for too long and too many people say, especially some in the political elite spectrum, that this is not what drives the electorate, their kind of kitchen table bread and butter issues. But somewhere in the back of my mind, that did not resonate with me. I did not feel that to be true. I think the American public gets it. I think that's now been represented in this polling, but more importantly, it's been represented in some of these electoral outcomes and these specials. I think there's a reasonable possibility that some of our mutual friends will eat their words with their negative Nancy commentary on losing the House. I think there's a reasonable chance that we might be able to frankly hang onto the house, at this point, get a larger margin. I think that we could see some extreme candidates. There'll be too many of them that stay in, but we'll see some extreme candidates out of government, which will be good. It'll be probably the death nail for... I almost said Vladimir Putin, but of course I meant Donald Trump.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah, I hope you're right there.

You're an advisor, a senior advisor, to Vote Vets, which came in really big at the last second for one of these candidates that you're talking about, Pat Ryan, fellow army vet up in New York 19, which really shocked the political classes. He was supposed to lose, but the voters of the New York 19th came to the defense of democracy, to the defense of reproductive rights, of freedom more broadly. Pat, we had him on just last week. He said that his campaign was a referendum on freedom. Can you talk about your hopes and your work with Vote Vets and the coming midterms and what you think is possible?

Alex Vindman:

Sure. I think first, there's another interesting data point. I like information, the more the merrier. I saw an interesting Fox poll actually, that said fathers of daughters were increasingly shifting away from the Republican party, which white males, but that happen to be fathers of daughters, are not that guaranteed demographic for MAGA or for the right. I think that's another thing that we're seeing. We're seeing suburban women. My wife is active in the suburban women political action space. She does this suburban women problem podcast to talk to women.

Ken Harbaugh:

We had her co-host, Amanda, on not long ago.

Alex Vindman:

I see these things coming into force. With regards to Vote Vets, frankly, I'm a novice to the political space. The organization's been around for a long time, since 2006. The folks that run it have exceptionally strong relationships. They know what they're doing. They have sharp elbows and know how to reach constituencies. The whole purpose about Vote Vets is to give veterans a voice like they've given me, like they are giving Pat, like we do when we endorse and support candidates around the country.

I think it's an excellent effort. We're keenly focused on the five badass women. It's Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, Alyssa Slotkin, Mikie Sherrill, and Chrissy Houlahan. I think we're actually, I'm increasingly comfortable that we're in good shape there. I'm on the hunt for new prospects. I actually had a conversation with them today. There's a couple of folks that, while they haven't gone so far as to endorse him because they're good at, like I said, they're more sophisticated than me. I like Patrick Schmidt, who's running in Kansas, as a 31 year old Navy Intel officer, that's just doing a really terrific grassroots campaign. James Carville has been out a bunch of times supporting him. Patrick is running in, what, I think it's Kansas, 2nd. His district was instrumental to that choice referendum that Kansas had. They voted overwhelmingly. I like him. I'm supporting Mandela Barnes running against Ron Johnson, a pet rock for me, because he attacked me personally. He is really quite... what can you say? The guy's just not that bright. I thought it was a lack of experience, but I think there's something more fundamentally flawed with him. I like Admiral Franken. There's a bunch of folks that I would like to see get more attention. Of course, would it be wonderful if Marjorie Taylor Greene was unseated by... who is our friend there?

Ken Harbaugh:

Marcus.

Alex Vindman:

Yes, Marcus Flowers. That would be a terrific outcome. I'd like to see a lot of these radical Republican candidates out. Of course, let me mention Tim Ryan, for those of you out there. That would be good, because JD Vance would be terrible for this country at the national level.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, what do you say to those listening who see vets on the other side, the JD Vances of the world, the Doug Mastrianos? It's a growing list and just about every one of them knows better, but they're parroting the big lie. They're saying whatever they think they have to to stay in Trump's good graces, and to instigate and provoke the base in a way that is really dangerous to the democracy that they claim to love, that they swore an oath to support and defend.

Alex Vindman:

That's the biggest problem right there. We served in the military. We understand that there are flawed people in the military. By and large it's an amazing organization filled with terrific public servants, selfless public servants, but there is also, there are too many self-serving officers, military personnel, that would put their own interests ahead of their community's interests or national interests. That's what we see here.

A guy like Doug Mastriano, Army Colonel, should know better. I think to me, it's that group of folks, those folks that are part of the insurrection caucus, those folks that swore an oath to the constitution and then cast it aside for personal gain, it's like the apostates or something like that. Those apostates in religion are dealt with very, very severely, as we know. I think the fact is that those folks should be held to a higher standard, even higher than other elected public servants. Those should be target number one to unseat for failing to meet their obligations to the public good and to the constitution.

Ken Harbaugh:

Last question, and I want to use it to plug the book because it is phenomenal, even reading it a second time. The whole thing reads like an homage to your father, full of amazing insights and wisdom from him. Like this one, "Don't just start over, keep starting over." I don't know if he saw what was in your future, but you took at the heart. I just want to end with that amazing message that, I'm going to try not to get choked up, but that amazing message that you read to your father during your testimony.

You said,

"Dad, my sitting here today in the US capital is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America and search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth."

The question is, do you still believe that right still matters given everything you have been through since then?

Alex Vindman:

I do. I think every now and then I have to interrogate that belief and question whether I've been wrong, and I come back to the same conclusion. I've had a chance to visit every state of the union, all 50 states. I think we have a beautiful country filled with wonderful people, too many of them have been lied to. I think this country is unique and different. What we do matters here, matters around the world. I guess maybe ‘here right matters’ is an aspirational notion, also, like the more perfect union. When our founding fathers conceived of this country to establish a more perfect union, I don't think they had any misconceptions that it was going to be a country that continued to strive towards the more perfect union. I think, yes, I think here right matters, but we also need to be a country where right continues to matter, and any way I could lend my voice to making sure right matters, I do that to the best of my ability. I'm also an optimist, so that helps.

Ken Harbaugh:

Same here. I have unshakeable faith in our ability as a country to right the ship when it leans too far over. That's a Navy reference. I'm sure you army guys have your own.

Alex Vindman:

I got you.

Ken Harbaugh:

But thank you so much, Alex, for coming on, for lending your voice for this past hour. We appreciate it.

Alex Vindman:

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Alex for joining me. Make sure to check out his memoir, Here, Right Matters: An American Story. The link is in the show description.

You can also find Alex on Twitter at @AVindman.

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We're always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more follow us on Twitter @team_harbaugh. And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate and review.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss. I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

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