Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has defended Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s decision to report President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president. Kelly referred to the call as an “illegal order” that had to be reported. Most of us support Vindman raising his concerns with the chain of command and hopefully Trump will not attack Kelly for stating his support for Vindman. This is a principled and reasonable view of one of our most respected military officers.
In comments at Drew University Wednesday night, Kelly said Vindman “did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave. He went and told his boss what he just heard.” Kelly went on: “We teach them, Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.”
I do not see the call as an “illegal order” but agree that such reservations should be raised, as they were, with Vindman’s superiors. As I have written, I do not see the call as a crime or illegal. While I have criticized the reference to the Bidens as inappropriate and deeply concerning, the issue is not whether it is illegal but whether it was appropriate for Vindman to take the matters to his superiors. The answer is clearly yes.
While I am not hopeful, Trump should respect the view of Kelly on this question and not counterpunch with a personal attack. Kelly’s criticism of other issues like immigration are simply his opinion, but the Vindman question goes to a core principle of military ethics that should not be questioned by the White House.