WASHINGTON — Republicans faced a tough witness in Tuesday’s impeachment hearings: a war veteran dressed in uniform prepared to testify about Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine. Naturally, they used their time to smear him with unfounded accusations of leaking and dual loyalty.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who serves in the Army and is currently on Trump’s National Security Council, testified that he was alarmed by President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and went through the proper chain of command to voice his concerns.
But Republicans weren’t interested in learning more about Trump’s questionable conduct, or the substance of Vindman’s testimony.
Instead, they attacked the character of Vindman, who is Jewish and whose family left “authoritarian oppression” in Ukraine for the United States when he was a toddler.
The most glaring example came when Republican committee counsel Steve Castor repeatedly pressed Vindman about a Ukrainian official who made him an offer to join their government as defense minister.
“Every single time, I dismissed it. Upon returning, I notified my chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks about this offer,” Vindman responded after saying he was asked three times by Ukrainian officials. “I’m an American. I came here when I was a toddler, and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them.”
That somehow wasn’t enough to satisfy Castor, who asked twice more about the offer.
“When he made this offer to you initially, did you leave the door open? Was there a reason that he had to come back and ask a second and third time? Or he was he just trying to convince you?” Castor asked.
“Counsel, you know what, the whole notion is rather comical, that I was being asked to consider whether I’d want to be the minister of defense. I did not leave the door open at all,” Vindman responded, calling it “pretty funny” that Ukraine was interested in appointing him to such a high position since his rank is “not that senior” in the Army.
The Ukrainian official who offered Vindman the job told the Daily Beast Tuesday that his offer was “clearly a joke” and that they both “smiled and laughed.”
That wasn’t the only time the GOP tried to imply that Vindman wasn’t loyal to America.
“Your boss had concerns about your judgment, your former boss Dr. Hill had concerns about your judgment,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Vindman during the hearing, before appearing to accuse Vindman of leaking information to the press.
“I never did, never would. It is preposterous to ask me that,” Vindman shot back.
The White House quickly amplified Jordan’s criticism:
Jordan also attacked Vindman for refusing to reveal everyone he’d talked to internally about the infamous call between Trump and Zelensky — a move seemingly aimed at trying to publicly unveil the name of the whistleblower. Vindman said he only told “people with the proper clearance and the need to know.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) later accused Vindman of not following proper protocol when he went to raise concerns about the Trump-Zelensky call with the National Security Council’s chief lawyer rather than going to his direct boss.
This is hardly the first time Republicans have tried to attack Vindman’s motives by using the “dual loyalty” smear. After Vindman’s closed-door testimony two weeks ago, multiple conservatives and Republicans accused him of favoring Ukraine. That included former Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), who said on CNN that Vindman “has an affinity for the Ukraine,” and Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, who said he “tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.”
Immigrants have faced such attacks for centuries — with Jews often being the target of this anti-Semitic trope. For thousands of years, Jews have faced accusations that they aren’t really loyal citizens, even when they’ve lived in their home countries for generations.
Democrats expressed outrage over the GOP’s line of questioning and other attacks on Vindman’s character.
After highlighting Vindman’s meritorious military service, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told Vindman the questions from Castor “may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit” but were “designed exclusively to give the right-wing media an opening to question your loyalties.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who himself is an immigrant, told Vindman that it’s “reprehensible” that “your immigrant heritage is being used against you.”
Trump himself has accused Jewish Democrats of having “great disloyalty” for not supporting him given his strong support of Israel, and Vindman is far from the first Trump critic to be smeared with dual-loyalty accusations.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was forced from office this past spring by a campaign of unfounded rumors that she wasn’t loyal to Trump, pushed in part by Trump’s own attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top White House adviser on Europe and Russia, testified that those attacks had a distinctly anti-Semitic character — specifically because it was suggested that she had ties to Hungarian-American billionaire liberal George Soros, a frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Rumors and press reports questioning Yovanovitch’s loyalty to Trump included the suggestion of a murky connection to George Soros, a Hungarian-American billionaire and frequent target of unfounded conspiracy theories, she said.
“That made me mad,” Hill said. “And when I saw this happening to Ambassador Yovanovitch again, I was furious, because this is, again, just this whipping up of what is frankly an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros to basically target nonpartisan career officials.”
Vindman seemed prepared for the attacks. In his opening statement, Vindman assured his father that he’d be safe.
He was asked about those remarks near the end of the hearing, and why he ultimately wasn’t concerned for his safety.
“Because this is America. This is the country I served, that I defended,” Vindman replied. “Here, right matters.”
Cover: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, arrive back after a break in their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)