Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council staffer and key witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry, was accused by former Republican congressman Sean Duffy of having dual loyalty to the United States and Ukraine.
“It seems very clear that [Vindman] is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” Duffy said in a CNN interview Tuesday morning. “I don’t know about his concern [for] American policy, but his main mission was to make sure the Ukraine got those weapons. I understand it: We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from. Like me, I’m sure that Vindman has the same affinity.” Vindman is a U.S. citizen who left Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, when he was three years old.
Several congressional Republicans spoke out in defense of Vindman, who received a Purple Heart after he was wounded by an IED in the Iraq War.
Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a top Republican in the House, said that “questioning the patriotism, questioning the dedication to country of people like Vindman . . . and others who have testified” is “shameful.”
“We’re talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation,” Cheney said at a GOP leadership press conference. “It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process.”
Iowa GOP senator Joni Ernst said Vindman was an “honorable man” and that the attacks on him were “inappropriate.”
“That guy’s a Purple Heart. I think it would be a mistake to attack his credibility,” South Dakota’s John Thune, the second-ranking GOP senator, told Politico. “You can obviously take issue with the substance and there are different interpretations about all that stuff. But I wouldn’t go after him personally. He’s a patriot.”
“I’m not going to question the patriotism of any of the people coming forward,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said.
“It’s absurd, disgusting, and way off the mark. This is a decorated American soldier and he should be given the respect that his service to our country demands,” Utah senator Mitt Romney said of attacks on Vindman.
In addition to former congressman Sean Duffy’s comments, Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, tweeted: “ANOTHER SCHIFFTY BACKFIRE: A US gov. employee who has reportedly been advising two gov’s? No wonder he is confused and feels pressure.”
Giuliani was referring to a report in the New York Times that Ukrainian officials sought advice from Vindman on how to deal with pressure from Giuliani, who is not a government official.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham raised the issue of Vindman’s conversations with Ukrainian government officials during her show on Monday night, saying that Vindman was “advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interest and usually they spoke in English. Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?”
Fox panelist John Yoo, a law professor and former Bush administration official, replied: “I find that astounding, and some people might call that espionage.”
Yoo later claimed he was accusing the Ukrainians but not Vindman of engaging in espionage:
I want to clear up a misconception of my remarks on the Laura Ingraham show last night. I did not accuse Lt. Col. Vindaman of committing the crime of espionage.
I have tremendous respect for a decorated officer of the U.S. Army and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What I was addressing was a report that Ukrainian officials had sought to contact Vindaman for advice on how to handle Rudy Giuliani acting as a presidential envoy. I meant to say that this sounded like an espionage operation by the Ukrainians. I think it deliberately misconstrues my words to say that the separate issue of the phone call between the US and Ukrainian president through the chain of command constitutes espionage by Vindaman, or that Vindaman is some kind of double agent.
Sean Duffy also tried to clean up his comments later on Tuesday. “Lt. Col. Vindman is an American war hero. As I said clearly this morning on air ‘I salute Mr. Vindman’s service.’ My point is that Mr. Vindman is an unelected advisor, he gives ADVICE. President Trump sets the policy,” Duffy said, without directly addressing his comments about Vindman’s ethnicity and his doubts about Vindman’s “concern” for “American policy.”
Vindman testified to Congress on Tuesday that he was witness to efforts by other members of the Trump administration, including EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s family. “Amb. Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time [former national-security adviser John] Bolton cut the meeting with [top Ukraine official Oleksandr Danylyuk] short. Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” Vindman said, according to his prepared remarks.
“I stated to Amb. 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,” Vindman told members of Congress. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”