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Alexander Vindman says he's become a 'never-Trumper'

In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, the retired lieutenant colonel says the president is "undermining" national security interests.

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman says he’s “absolutely” become a "never-Trumper" after coming under relentless attack from President Donald Trump, telling NBC News’ Lester Holt that the White House leaked a classified memo about him to congressional Republicans in a bid to smear him.

In an interview airing Monday on "NBC Nightly News," Vindman says he’s speaking out publicly in hopes of encouraging Americans to “choose an alternative to what we have” in Trump.

Vindman says he “was not a never-Trumper before, I was nonpartisan,” echoing language he used during his pivotal testimony to Congress during the impeachment inquiry. But Vindman said that has changed “as the president's attacked and politicized me directly.”

“In taking a very sober view of where this president is taking this country, the divisions, the catering to our adversaries, the undermining of national security interests, that I am absolutely a never-Trumper,” Vindman says.

Vindman retired from the Army in July amid what he called a “vindictive” campaign to block his promotion to full colonel. His testimony about witnessing Trump pressure the Ukrainian president in a phone call to conduct investigations that could hurt Joe Biden formed the centerpiece of Democrats’ impeachment case. Trump was later acquitted in the Senate.

“I suspected, as soon as I heard the call, that if this became public that the president would be impeached, no doubt about it,” Vindman says.

“The whole enterprise from start to finish seemed un-American,” Vindman says of the notorious July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “It seemed wrong, it seemed corrupt, and frankly I suspect that it could have been criminal.”

In the interview, Vindman accused the White House of leaking classified information to Republicans to use against him.

When Vindman testified in the impeachment inquiry in November 2019, he was questioned by the Republicans' lawyer on the House Intelligence Committee, Steve Castor, about whether the Ukrainian national security adviser had offered him a job as Ukraine’s defense minister.

It was unclear at the time where House Republicans had gotten that information. But Vindman, who was born in Ukraine, responded by confirming that the Ukrainian had mentioned the job to him three times, though he said he didn’t take the overtures seriously.

“I'm an American. I came here when I was a toddler. And I immediately dismissed these offers, did not entertain them,” Vindman said in the hearing.

Now Vindman says the origin of that question had to have been a leak from the White House. He says he had documented the overtures in a memorandum that he provided to his superiors precisely so that it would be clear he was not interested.

“That memorandum that I had classified, the White House leaked to the Republicans, a classified memo, to try to trip me up,” Vindman says. “That could have only come from one place, could have only come from the White House.”

“This is a disgruntled former detailee, seeking publicity, who is making allegations that are without merit,” said National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot in response to the interview.

Castor tells NBC News that he categorically denies that the White House was the source of that information, although he declined to say where he did learn it.

Vindman, who oversaw the Ukraine portfolio at the White House National Security Council during the events at the center of Trump’s impeachment, told "Nightly News" that Trump is at a minimum “infatuated” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said others have described it as “a kind of a love affair.”

Vindman says it’s “unclear” whether Putin has compromising information about Trump.

“I know that other senior government officials suspect that Putin might have dirt on him,” Vindman says. “But frankly, they don’t have to use coercive force. What they have is a willing participant in their enterprise.”

Vindman, a decorated veteran of the Iraq War, says he’s speaking out with “a significant amount of personal risk” in hopes of helping to “inform an electorate going into the most important election of our lifetime, and maybe persuade them to choose an alternative to what we have.”

“We cannot have four more years of this president and the kind of damage that he’s done to American institutions. We have other choices,” Vindman says. “And frankly, it’s a binary choice. It’s one or the other. We can’t sit out on the fence.”

Still, Vindman declined to say whether he was registering to vote as a Democrat or a Republican this year.

“I can tell you this: that the choice for me is clear,” Vindman says. “I’m going to be voting for the other guy.”