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Trump Impeachment Witness Sues Giuliani, Trump Jr., and White House Officials for Allegedly Violating His Civil Rights

A photo shows Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the former Director for European Affairs for the National Security Council who testified against Donald Trump during the ex-president’s first impeachment proceeding, accused four supporters of the former president of violating his civil rights in a federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday.  The named defendants are the the ex-president’s son Donald Trump, Jr.; attorney and Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani; former Deputy White House Communications Director Julia Hahn; and former White House Director of Social Media and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Daniel Scavino, Jr.

“This lawsuit seeks long-overdue accountability for unlawful actions,” the document says in its opening salvo.  It accuses the defendants of conspiring to help the ex-president “obstruct a constitutional proceeding by intimidating and retaliating against a key witness.”

It continues:

In late 2019 and early 2020, President Trump and his allies—including members of his White House staff, members of his family and personal legal team, and at least one on-air personality employed by an allied media outlet—engaged in an intentional, concerted campaign of unlawful intimidation and retaliation against a sitting Director of the National Security Council and decorated military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, to prevent him from and then punish him for testifying truthfully before Congress during impeachment proceedings against President Trump. This campaign of intimidation and retaliation has had severe and deeply personal ramifications for Lt. Col. Vindman. It also left a stain on our democracy.

The 73-page lawsuit alleges two counts:  a conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1) and a conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2).  Both statutes involve civil rights matters.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the named defendants violated the aforementioned statutes, which are part of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.  It also asks a judge to “permanently enjoin” the defendants from violating said laws again; seeks nominal, compensatory, consequential, and punitive damages; and asks to recoup reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

Vindman alleges that he “listened to a phone call in which President Trump attempted to coerce the President of Ukraine to publicly undertake an investigation into former Vice President and now President Joseph R. Biden and his son, Hunter, in exchange for an official White House visit and the release of critically important security assistance funds that Congress had directed be provided to Ukraine.”

“Concerned that President Trump’s actions were potentially illegal and put our national security at risk, Lt. Col. Vindman promptly reported the content of the call through official channels at the NSC,” the lawsuit continues. “Lt. Col. Vindman was subsequently subpoenaed by the House of Representatives to testify in an impeachment inquiry related to President Trump’s actions with respect to Ukraine.”

Vindman claims that’s when he became a target. Again, from the lawsuit:

The attacks on Lt. Col. Vindman did not simply happen by accident or coincidence, nor were they the result of normal politics or modern newscycles. Rather, the coordinated campaign was the result of a common understanding and agreement among and between President Trump, Defendants, and others comprising a close group of aides and associates inside and outside of the White House, to target Lt. Col. Vindman in a specific way for the specific purpose of intimidation and retaliation. The coordination and agreement on purpose and strategy is exactly what made this unlawful campaign against Lt. Col. Vindman so damaging.

The lawsuit says the alleged conspiracy included “meetings to coordinate strategy,” “using talking points aimed at coordinating and advancing false narratives,” cooking up alleged lies that Vindman “was a spy for Ukraine,” and “leaking classified information for the purpose of further the false disloyalty narrative.” This alleged “campaign,” the lawsuit claims, “as designed to inflict maximum damage by creating and spreading disinformation that they knew would be picked up and amplified by anchors at Fox News, other right-wing media outlets, and across social media — all while Lt. Col. Vindman’s active duty status prevented him from effectively defending himself.”

All of this was illegal, the lawsuit claims. In describing the relevant sections of the Ku Klux Klan Act, the lawsuit explains:

Congress recognized that attempts to use threats and intimidation to impede federal officials and courts from carrying out their responsibilities harm not only those targeted, but the very capacity of our democracy to function. Thus, the statute makes it unlawful to conspire to interfere with a federal official’s ability to hold office or to carry out the duties of office, or to interfere with any witness’s ability to testify.

Then came additional points of advocacy:

In this case, the threat to our democracy came from a conspiracy among people within the highest reaches of our government and their close allies. President Trump and his aides and other close associates, including Defendants, waged a targeted campaign against Lt. Col. Vindman for upholding his oath of office and telling the truth. That they attacked Lt. Col. Vindman with such coordinated precision should come as no surprise. It is implausible that there would not be a high degree of coordination by the White House and close allies responding to a presidential impeachment. In fact, President Trump and his allies employed a familiar playbook for attacking a number of political enemies. But in this case, Defendants employed the playbook with an agreed-upon unlawful purpose—in essence, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice. That purpose was made explicit from the start when President Trump promised “big consequences” for anyone who cooperated in the proceedings against him.

Whatever one thinks of the merits of the underlying impeachment, purposefully attacking witnesses for participating in an official proceeding and telling the truth cannot be dismissed as politics as usual and cannot be tolerated in a nation built on the rule of law. However toxic our politics may have become, this kind of unlawful conduct must not be accepted as “normal” in any healthy democracy.

Citing “public reporting,” the lawsuit also alleges “close coordination between Fox News and the Trump Administration,” including a “private meeting” between then-Attorney General Bill Barr and Rupert Murdoch in October 2019. It goes on to claim the “Trump Administration’s relationship with Fox News was unprecedented in American history.”

The result of the allegedly far-reaching scheme, the lawsuit claims, was the “reckless” repeating of many “false claim[s]” about the plaintiff’s service and testimony — including a “false claim of perjury” which the defendants are said to have levied against the plaintiff’s impeachment testimony.  Also alleged is a supposed “attempt to derail” the plaintiff’s promotion to the rank of colonel.

The lawsuit says the alleged attacks on the plaintiff made it impossible for him to continue serving; it says he announced his retirement in June 2020 and “separated from active duty service effective July 31, 2020.”

Read the full 73-page document below:

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.