WASHINGTON — The Trump-owned Republican Party showed no hesitation in attacking the integrity and credibility of Special Counsel Robert Mueller despite his being a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart winner. In the cult of Trump, defending the president outweighed any other concerns, including the GOP’s allegiance to anything involving “the troops.”
But what if the messenger were an active duty officer, a self-described “patriot” who, acting out of a “sense of duty” to his country, criticized President Trump’s actions? Would the GOP take this officer at his word and defend his decision to speak up — or would it attack him too?
The latest government official to come forward with concerns about Trump’s insistence that Ukraine investigate his political rival Joe Biden and the 2016 election is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer and the leading Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. An American who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq, Vindman was scheduled for a deposition interview with investigators on Tuesday as part of the House’s impeachment investigation into the Trump-Ukraine scandal.
According to his prepared remarks, Vindman planned to tell investigators that he believed it was improper for the president to “demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” and that he feared “the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.” He planned to tell investigators that “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.” The result of that would “undermine national security,” he planned to say.
The president’s allies responded by — you guessed it — attacking Vindman.
On her show Monday night, Fox News host Laura Ingraham tried to cast Vindman as a double agent of sorts who has apparently undermining President Trump from within the White House. “Some people might call that espionage,” John Yoo, one of Ingraham’s guests who’s best known as one of the architects of the Bush-era torture regime, chimed in.
Oh my God, look at the spin they are using right now, actually saying that Vindman is a Ukrainian double agent….this is so freaking bananas pic.twitter.com/Oxpju5W23N
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) October 29, 2019
Fox and Friends got in on the act Tuesday morning, taking issue with the fact that Vindman is Ukrainian-American and was born in the former Soviet Union. “So he has got a Purple Heart and he is from the Soviet Union,” co-host Brian Kilmeade noted. “He immigrated here and has an affinity to the Ukrainian people.”
Kilmeade: Vindman "has an affinity to the Ukrainian people." pic.twitter.com/dVoh1vH87t
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) October 29, 2019
The Republican spin machine must have decided that “affinity” was their smear du jour when it came to Vindman’s damning remarks. On CNN, former Real World cast-member and ex-congressman Sean Duffy picked up where Fox and Friends left off. “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” Duffy said on CNN. “I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy…We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from…He has an affinity for the Ukraine.”
Sean Duffy on CNN on Army Lt. Col. Vindman: "It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know that he's concerned about American policy … we all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from … he has an affinity for the Ukraine." pic.twitter.com/dlsYlTnCwR
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 29, 2019
The desperate attacks on Vindman only underscore how pivotal his testimony and recollections could be to the ongoing impeachment inquiry. His draft prepared remarks includes new details about a July 10 meeting between a senior Ukrainian official, U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, Vindman, and other White House staffers.
The Ukrainians wanted to know when their new president would get to meet with Trump. In response, Vindman recalls, Ambassador Sondland “started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President” — in other words, do us a favor by investigating Biden and you’ll get your meeting. According to Vindman, Bolton “cut the meeting short” after Sondland’s stunning request. At a debriefing afterward, Vindman says he told Sondland that “his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push.” Other staffers echoed Vindman’s concerns.
Vindman’s account seems to add yet more evidence to the case that Trump abused his power and possibly illegally withheld foreign aid appropriated by Congress in order to get a foreign country to investigate one of Trump’s political rivals. Without any way to substantively dispute Vindman’s recollections, Republicans have decided that their only option is to question his patriotism and loyalty to his country, a strategy so desperate that even some usual defenders of the president have refused to join in.
“It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this country,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said, according to Politico. Rory Cooper, a former aide to Republican Congressman Eric Cantor, tweeted: “If your first instinct is to smear Lt. Col. Vindman, or worse, question his loyalty to this country, go take a long walk off a short pier. You’ve lost it.”