John Kelly, who served as Donald Trump's chief of staff for 18 months before being fired, has not authored a book since leaving the administration. Nor did he testify in the president's impeachment trial. But on Wednesday, the retired four-star general delivered a paid speech in which he confirmed the central allegation at the heart of the case, according to a Washington Post report.
Trump was acquitted by an almost entirely party-line vote on February 5, on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Both articles stemmed from the charge that the president withheld congressionally approved military aid from Ukraine, in order to force that country's government to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, who at the time, appeared to be the most likely candidate to represent the Democratic Party in this year's presidential election.
A July 25, 2019, phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to contain evidence that he had conditioned military aid on whether or not Zelensky was willing to do "a favor" by investigating Biden.
In his speech, delivered in Morristown, New Jersey, Kelly said that "the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against … the Russians" — until Trump's phone call.
"When the president said that continued support would be based on X," the U.S. policy "essentially changed," Kelly said, as quoted by The Atlantic magazine.
Kelly went on to defend Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the former National Security Council staff member who testified in the House impeachment inquiry about what he heard as an authorized listener on the phone call. Vindman told the House inquiry that he believed Trump's conduct to be "improper."
Just two days after his acquittal by the Senate, Trump fired Vindman from the NSC staff, ordering him escorted out of the White House, according to an Axios report.
The president also fired Vindman's twin brother, NSC lawyer Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Vindman, despite the fact that he was not involved in the impeachment case, Axios reported.
But in his speech Wednesday, Kelly praised Vindman for following his military training to report "illegal" orders from superiors.
"He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave," he said of the former NSC staffer, who was awarded the Purple Heart medal after he was wounded while serving in the Iraq War. "He went and told his boss what he just heard."
Kelly added that members of the military are taught not to follow "an illegal order" and to immediately report these orders up the chain of command. He further pointed out that Trump's conditioning of aid to Ukraine on the Biden investigation can be considered illegal in that light.