Alexander Vindman, the former National Security Council aide who helped trigger the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump, suffered a legal setback Tuesday as a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit in which Vindman accused several top Trump allies of conspiring to violate his civil rights.
U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg said Vindman’s allegations that he was smeared by the former president’s son Donald Trump Jr., adviser and attorney Rudy Giuliani, former Deputy White House Communications Director Julia Hahn and former Deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino did not give Vindman a legal basis to sue the foursome under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
“Political hackery alone does not violate” that statute, wrote Boasberg, an appointee of former President Barack Obama.
Vindman raised early alarms about Trump’s July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which Trump appeared to tie future U.S. aid to Ukraine’s willingness to launch and announce an investigation that would be damaging to Joe Biden, whom Trump correctly viewed as a likely rival for the presidency in 2020.
Vindman, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, would later testify to the House Intelligence Committee — first in a private deposition and then in a public hearing in late 2019, when Trump and his allies unleashed a torrent of attacks on his character and integrity.
Throughout his 29-page opinion issued Tuesday, Boasberg seemed to sympathize with Vindman’s plight, emphasizing that even though Vindman had failed from a legal standpoint, the attacks against him seemed inappropriate and false.
“The Court does not decide the validity of those attacks, regardless of whether some were outside the bounds of appropriate political discourse,” Boasberg wrote.
Boasberg compared the case to a similar lawsuit against Trump for his decision to clear Lafayette Square before walking through to hold up a bible at a nearby church. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich had similarly ruled the plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient evidence of a conspiracy.
“Judge Friedrich held that those plaintiffs had alleged facts that, if true, showed only that the defendants were communicating with each other to jointly clear the square — not that they had formed an unlawful agreement to violate the plaintiffs’ rights based on membership in a protected class,” Boasberg noted.
Boasberg said Trump Jr. was the “closest call” in Vindman’s lawsuit but that Vindman’s allegations still fell short of suggesting a genuine civil conspiracy — which would have required an agreement among multiple actors to commit an unlawful act. Boasberg said Vindman hadn’t alleged Trump Jr., Scavino and Giuliani knew their statements were false or whether they had simply repeated or amplified the claims of others.
In addition, Vindman had become a prominent figure in Trump’s impeachment proceedings, heightening the legal standard to prove defamation.
“As a limited-purpose public figure … Vindman was a man in the arena,” Boasberg wrote. “Defendants may have played ugly, but Vindman does not plead facts suggesting that they acted with actual malice.”
Vindman’s civil suit was filed in February by Protect Democracy Project and San Francisco-based law firm Altshuler Berzon.