When Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman went in to testify before the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted a complaint about testimony from people he “never heard of.” It may seem strange that Trump didn’t even recognize the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert, who had taken part in multiple White House meetings and listened in on Trump’s calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. However, it turns out there’s a good reason that Vindman didn’t seem all that familiar to Trump: One of Rep. Devin Nunes’ pals had been pretending to be the White House Ukraine expert. And officials kept Vindman away from Trump because the presence of the actual expert might “confuse him.”
Vindman was one of those who listened in on Trump’s first call to Zelensky in April and, after both Trump and Mike Pence refused to go, was part of the much-reduced team that attended Zelensky’s inauguration in May. As Politico reports, Vindman was prepared to brief Trump when he returned from Kyiv … but that never happened.
“At the last second,” Vindman said, he was told to stay away from the meeting. The reason he was steered away was that Nunes staffer Kashyap Patel had already “misrepresented” himself to Trump as the NSC’s expert on Ukraine, even though he had no background, no expertise, and no experience to make that claim. But Patel’s pretend position, which he had used to dip into secure intelligence information, had already made him a Trump favorite. So the genuine Ukraine expert was shut out in favor of the fraud.
Patel had previously been best known for deliberately leaking intelligence documents to help Nunes undermine the Russia investigation. At the White House he became another of what turned out to be a series of “unofficial channels” Trump opened up with Ukraine. Trump had Rudy Giuliani running around Europe with a pair of indicted “associates” provided by a fugitive oligarch. He had the “three amigos” of Rick Perry, Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker badgering Ukrainian officials for investigations. And Trump had Patel ferrying raw intelligence data to the Oval Office and providing his own, completely uninformed spin on what was happening on the ground.
The idea that Donald Trump should shut out real experts in favor of a White House con artist is … completely expected.