KEY POINTS

  • John Kelly draws Trump's anger by defending Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who Trump fired from his post at the NSC
  • John Bolton continues to enrage Trump for affirming Trump told him to continue withholding military aid to Ukraine
  • The "Two Johns" have come to each other's aid to counterattack Trump

Former White House chief-of-staff John Kelly and former national security adviser John Bolton are coming to each other's aid as they lash out against president Donald Trump's attacks against them. Trump further inflamed Kelly by also blasting Kelly’s wife, Karen, for allegedly lying to him.

Both national security experts have come under Twitter fire from Trump over the past few weeks for assailing Trump's key role in the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump's impeachment by the House on Dec. 18, 2019.

Bolton drew Trump's wrath for writing in his unpublished book Trump personally ordered him to continue withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a quid pro quo with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Senate Republicans refused to ask Bolton to testify about this claim in the Senate impeachment trial.

Kelly came under renewed verbal assault for saying on Wednesday Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was following his military training when he chose to report Trump’s now infamous July 25, 2019 phone call with Zelensky. Col. Vindman was the Director for European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council (NSC).

Trump responded to Kelly’s remarks by tweeting Kelly “just can’t keep his mouth shut.” He also attacked Kelly’s wife, Karen, for lying to him when she allegedly told him “John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.”

Trump fired Vindman on February 7 for testifying against him at the House hearings. Vindman's twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, was also fired  on the same day and was also escorted off the White House grounds by police.

Democrats and administration critics saw the dismissal of the Vindman as an act of political vengeance by Trump. This came after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told White House lawyer John Eisenberg of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky. Col. Vindman then proceeded to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry.

Speaking to students and guests at Drew University in New Jersey, Kelly said Col. Vindman was just doing his job by reporting "an illegal order," from Trump.

This illegal order was Trump’s decision to link congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine to an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden. Kelly said Trump's interference disrupted longstanding U.S. foreign and military policy.

“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” said Kelly about Col. Vindman's actions. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”

John Kelly, then chief of staff to US President Donald Trump, is seen during a White House lunch on June 21, 2018 John Kelly, then chief of staff to US President Donald Trump, is seen during a White House lunch on June 21, 2018 Photo: AFP / Olivier Douliery

Bolton came to Kelly's defense Thursday. He tweeted to say Kelly, who he served alongside with at the White House, is "an honorable man." He also called on Republicans to stand up to Trump.

"John Kelly is an honorable man. John and I have disagreed at times, as is commonplace at senior government levels, but he has always served his country faithfully. Conservatives especially have a responsibility to reject baseless attacks upon him," tweeted Bolton.

Two weeks earlier, Kelly defended Bolton at at a lecture series in Sarasota, Florida. He told the audience he believes the accounts about Trump's role in the Ukraine scandal detailed in Bolton's forthcoming book.

“If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” affirmed Kelly. “Every single time I was with him ... he always gave the president the unvarnished truth."