During his four decades as an accumulator of power in the nation’s capital, a holder of high offices in the State Department, and finally a stint as President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton has been well known for his scrupulous attention to the hiring and firing of his staff.
He always has demanded unwavering personal loyalty as well as fealty to his own—not his president’s—policy agenda. He has performed the most rigorous vetting on all who have been selected to serve on his various staffs, both the small number of political appointees a political appointee such as himself is allowed to have as well as the more numerous personnel selected from the foreign service, civil service, military services, and intelligence agencies.
The extremes to which Bolton goes to enforce his Bolton-centric scheme of things were exposed dramatically in the episode of his handpicked choice as deputy national security advisor, Mira Ricardel. The latter had a well-deserved reputation as “Bolton’s Bolton”—that is, a screamer, a browbeater, and a toxic boss par excellence. Ricardel’s exercises in Attila the Hun’s management methods were so over-the-top that they attracted the displeased attention of First Lady Melania Trump, who took the rare step of publicly calling for Ricardel’s dismissal. Ricardel had denigrated and disparaged members of the first lady’s staff.
Notwithstanding the public denunciation of Ricardel by the first lady, a standoff ensued. Bolton never relented in his support for his hatchetwoman. Ricardel finally was pried away from her White House position in November 2018 at a moment when Bolton was out of the country and unable to barricade her office door.
This incident illumined in high relief that Bolton’s loyalties are never to his superiors but always to himself and to others only so long as they remain his sycophants.
The strange case of the Vindman twins (Alexander and Yevgeny) should be examined in the light of Bolton’s Roi du Soleil management style.
In July 2018, three months or so after becoming President Trump’s national security adviser, Bolton hired both Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman as a Ukraine policy specialist for the National Security Council and his identical twin brother, Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, as deputy legal counsel in the NSC’s “ethics” office.
Bolton is totally responsible for this pair of unusual hires. There is no explaining this strange duo of appointments as something that the bureaucracy simply slipped over on Bolton. That is not Bolton’s way.
Anyone who has been involved in national security affairs in Republican administrations since 1981 knows that it is impossible that the Vindman brothers were given sensitive jobs in Bolton’s NSC without Bolton having become assured of their usefulness and loyalty to Bolton and his agenda. Both the Ukraine policy and the “ethics attorney” slots are of vast personal priority to Bolton.
On the face of it, it is very odd for any administration to hire a pair of identical twin Army lieutenant colonels to work at the very same time in the same office in any part of the government, much less on the elite, super-sensitive National Security Council staff. Concerns over conflicts of interest are magnified when one of the identical twins is an “ethics counsel” privy both to allegations and self-disclosures of sensitive financial data and any legally and ethically questionable actions by NSC staffers.
In Washington, if a person in Yevgeny’s position and with his political bias breaks the seal of the confessional, he doesn’t get excommunicated; he gets lionized in the mainstream media.
Given the bizarre situation Bolton had brought about with the twins serving in sensitive positions on his staff, one might have expected that Alexander and Yevgeny would have recused themselves from dealing with one another in any fashion that could be construed as a possible conflict of interests.
But the NSC is a particularly gassy precinct of the swamp, so expectations of prudence and “abundance of caution” between identical twin Army officers on the NSC staff of course were misbegotten.
So here we are. Acting on his own, without authorization, Alexander Vindman reported his jaundiced view of President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to friends in the State Department and intelligence agencies whom Vindman—unilaterally and going over the head of his superiors—asserted had a “need to know.” This led directly to the “whistleblower” complaint that ignited the impeachment conflagration.
Alexander Vindman also conflated his policy disagreement with President Trump into an ersatz “ethical” concern, and he shared his version of the phone call with his preferred in-house ethics lawyer, his own twin brother. Yevgeny Vindman is not the only ethics lawyer on the NSC staff. Alexander could have exercised a prudent compartmentalization of the information he considered so sensitive as to require the impeachment of his commander-in-chief. But instead of avoiding involvement of his brother in this matter, reportedly his first recourse was to decide that Yevgeny had a “need to know.”
All of this happened under the all-seeing eye of John Bolton.
The Justice Department’s legal counsel issued an authoritative statement that the highly classified information Alexander, with his own spin and Yevgeny’s blessing, fed to his friend in the intelligence community, was in no way a matter for the jurisdiction of the intelligence community inspector general. Nevertheless, the IC’s inspector general took his own invalid action to cloak the Vindmans’ friend with “whistleblower” protection while the leaks to the mainstream media, the disingenuous interactions with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his staff, and the histrionic impeachment farce ensued.
President Trump fired the insubordinate Bolton on September 10. During the week that followed, the “whistleblower” complaint emerged in the news, at first connected to a communication between President Trump and an unidentified foreign leader. On September 18, the Washington Post reported that Trump had made some kind of “promise” to the foreign leader. On September 19, the IC inspector general gave a secret briefing to Schiff and other congressional leaders. The same day, the Washington Post reported that the whistleblower complaint involved Ukraine.
The sanctimonious Alexander Vindman is suspected of perjury in his October performance in front of the House Intelligence Committee. Vindman had sworn in a deposition that he did not know the whistleblower. When, in an open hearing, committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) asked Vindman to identify the specific agency within the intelligence community employing the person with whom he had shared his version of the Trump-Zelensky call, Schiff interrupted the proceedings to say that Vindman was not allowed to answer the question because it would “out” the whistleblower. Schiff also is widely suspected of having lied when saying he does not know and has not had contact with the whistleblower.
Yevgeny Vindman reportedly is the NSC staffer given charge of reviewing John Bolton’s self-sanctifying memoir manuscript, which somehow leaked to the New York Times last week.
A Ukrainian-born immigrant who has contributed far more to the public good than both of the Vindman twins put together, Yakov Smirnoff, has a phrase that fits today’s situation: “What a country!”
The American people have John Bolton, and only John Bolton, to blame for the presence of the self-serving Vindman twins on the NSC staff. We have only Bolton to blame for empowering this gossipy pair and their confidants who have made a mockery of the common-sense security precept of “need to know.”