Rachel Vindman was in bed when she learned her spouse was about to land in the crosshairs of the president of the United States.
It was September 2019 and Vindman’s husband, Alexander, was a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel detailed to the National Security Council. Late one Thursday night, he casually mentioned a report about a whistleblower who revealed President Trump had shaken down Ukraine’s president for dirt on Joe Biden during a White House phone call — and that Alexander was on the call. “Maybe tomorrow see about professional liability insurance,” Rachel recalls him saying. “I was supposed to get that when I joined the NSC and someone suggested it but I never did. Can you call about that?” Alexander then promptly rolled over and went to sleep. Rachel says she stayed awake all night.
Rachel is speaking for the first time about her family’s ordeal, as she and her husband appear in a new television ad urging people to vote against Trump. The ad is a joint production of the anti-Trump Republican group, the Lincoln Project, and the progressive veterans group, Vote Vets. “The most powerful man in the world came after our family, what happened to us can happen to anyone,” she says in the ad, scheduled to hit the airwaves Friday.
She expects abuse to come after the ad airs but says she’s at peace with that. “I just refuse to be bullied,” she says. “I don’t look as young as I used to or as skinny as I used to and know putting my face out there and everything, people will make those comments.”
It wouldn’t be the first blowback that she has endured following her husband’s decision to testify against the president about the phone call. Harassment of her family began, she says, the weekend after Alexander gave closed-door testimony to House impeachment investigators in October. Rachel says it started with false stories being spread on Twitter claiming her husband — who emigrated from Ukraine as a child — denigrated the United States to Russian military officers. Then, she says, a raft of threats followed when the stories were amplified by Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter. “That’s when I started getting scared,” she recalls. Later that day, President Trump was asked about her husband and he said, “We’ll see, things are going to come out and we’ll see.” “That’s when I was really scared,” she says.
While Rachel says others may have found Trump’s comment “innocuous,” she took it as a threat. “Other things said subsequently were more threatening and more overt, but the first time is the most shocking,” she says. Some threats were mailed to their home. “You know you’re easy to find,” she says. “These people found us, even if it’s one or two a day, that’s enough and doesn’t matter if [they’re] balanced by letters of support.”
Last November, Alexander testified openly in front of a House panel considering impeachment charges against the president. When he was pressed by a congressman on why he was risking his career to speak out, the decorated Iraq War veteran answered: “This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.”
Rachel says she was worried when Alexander returned to work at the White House after his testimony. “It was hard for me as a spouse to send him, I felt, into the lion’s den every day,” says Rachel. “I knew the people … would give him dirty looks in the hallway. It bothered me, but he sort of discovered they were tracking his emails, basically surveilling him at work, and it was an unsettling feeling for me to know that.” A day after Trump was acquitted in a Senate trial, the president fired Vindman from the NSC. Soon after, Vindman retired from the Army.
She is realistic about the appeal of the anti-Trump ad. “It’s fairly niche and probably not going to change [many] minds, but we don’t have to change a lot of minds,” citing a Steve Bannon interview from January where he noted that Trump losing 3 to 4 percent of Republican voters could be fatal to his chances of reelection. What’s even more important to her than changing minds is encouraging voters to participate. In her view, “complacency is what got us in the situation, and hopefully it encourages people to not be complacent, to vote and allow their voices to be heard.”
Looking back, Rachel has no regrets over her husband’s actions, the scrutiny it caused of their lives, or the damage to his career. “Doing the right thing is always worth it,” she says. Rachel says she drew on deeper losses in recent years for strength. “We had a daughter who passed away, lost two beloved grandparents, parents, a child, in a five-year span, and the way I cope with that and the way I deal is to make my life matter, to be something that they would be proud of.”
“It would be easy to stay in bed when you lose a child — that’s not a life well lived and not a testament to their lives,” she continues. “And so I think life is meant to be lived with the fullest and lived with integrity so Alex can look our daughter, who is 9 and a half, in the eye and know he didn’t compromise on his values, ever, and that’s worth everything. Although I don’t want to go through more, I would do it all again even knowing the price that it cost.”