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John Kelly praises Vindman: He 'did exactly what we teach them to do'

Former White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE said Wednesday that Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanEsper: If my replacement is 'a real yes man' then 'God help us' Ukrainian president whose call with Trump sparked impeachment congratulates Biden Alexander Vindman congratulates Biden, Harris on election victory MORE did “exactly” what he was taught to do when he reported aspects of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president to his superiors.

Speaking at an event at Drew University, Kelly touted Vindman's conduct in the wake of Trump's conversation, which soon became central to the House impeachment inquiry. He said that Vindman was rightly disturbed by Trump's request for Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals, saying it was "tantamount to an illegal order," according to The Atlantic

“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave,” Kelly, who served as chief of staff between 2017 and 2019, said. “He went and told his boss what he just heard.”

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Vindman, a former Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, was one of several current and former administration officials to testify in the House's probe into Trump's dealings with Ukraine. Among other things, he said that he found Trump's July conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to be inappropriate. The White House recalled him from his post on Friday following the Senate's acquittal of Trump. 

Kelly said that Vindman's behavior was appropriate, given that Trump's request upended longstanding U.S. policy with regards to Ukraine. 

“Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against ... the Russians,” Kelly said. “When the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that’s what that guy [Vindman] was most interested in.”

He added that Vindman responded how any official should, stating: “We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.’” 

Trump and his GOP allies have repeatedly pushed back against charges that he committed wrongdoing in his dealings with Ukraine. Trump has often claimed that his talks with Zelensky were "perfect." 

Kelly's 17-month tenure as chief of staff was marked by high tensions with president. He's periodically expressed skepticism of Trump's policies since leaving the position. During his talk at the Drew University event, he denounced the president's rhetoric about migrants and expressed doubts about his foreign policy.