But because he cooperated with the impeachment inquiry, Republicans portrayed Vindman as a disloyal American. They insinuated that he had allegiance to Ukraine because a Ukrainian official had three times asked Vindman, who emigrated from Ukraine as a 3-year-old, to be the country’s defense minister.
Vindman, though he suspected the offer in jest, rejected it and reported it to his commanders and U.S. counterintelligence.
But at Tuesday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing, Republican counsel Steve Castor used the incident to insinuate disloyalty. “Do you have any reason why he asked you to do that? . . . Did you leave the door open? . . . Was he speaking in English or Ukrainian? . . . It’s rather significant. . . . Did you tell anyone? . . . Were there any other offers?”
And worst: “Did you ever think,” Castor asked, “that it might create at least a perception of a conflict?”
Thus did this decorated officer, after more than 20 years of service, have to defend his faithfulness.
“I’m an American. I came here when I was a toddler,” Vindman said. He added that he thought the Ukrainian official’s inquiry “rather comical.” (The Ukrainian said he was joking.)
The repugnant insinuation planted, Trump ran with it. Presenting it as evidence of the “impeachment scam,” Trump retweeted a White House official’s message that Vindman “was offered the position of defense minister for the Ukrainian government THREE times!”
They have no sense of decency.
Republicans accused Vindman of leaking, having poor judgment (the official White House Twitter account alleged the same, mid-hearing), violating his chain of command, accessing colleagues’ computers and having a “nonsense” view of Trump’s thinking. The committee’s ranking Republican, Devin Nunes (Calif.), said Vindman may need to “plead the fifth” and, departing from the usual protocol for questioning military witnesses, called him “Mr. Vindman.”
“Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please,” he replied.
This request earned a rebuke from Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah): “Do you always insist on civilians calling you by your rank?”
Stewart also faulted Vindman for wearing his military attire, as officers generally do when testifying. “I see you’re wearing your dress uniform knowing that’s not the suit of the day,” he said. “You normally wear a suit to the White House.”
Over at the White House, Trump, who never wore his country’s uniform, joined in deriding Vindman for wearing his.
Trump had previously threatened to release unspecified damning information about Vindman, following Fox News suggestions that Vindman is a Ukrainian spy. On the eve of the hearing, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) questioned Vindman’s “motives” and said he fits the “profile” of somebody who wants to oust Trump.
Vindman, in his opening statement, condemned such “vile character attacks.”
“As a young man I decided that I wanted to spend my life serving the nation that gave my family refuge from authoritarian oppression,” he said, recalling his father’s decision to flee the Soviet Union.
“In Russia,” Vindman said, “offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.” But not here, he said, addressing his father’s fears. “Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago. . . . Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Even as Vindman said this, The Post reported that the Army will relocate Vindman and his family to a military base for protection.
Vindman was prepared for the character attacks. When Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) said Vindman’s former boss questioned his judgment, Vindman read from her last evaluation of him: “brilliant, unflappable and exercises excellent judgment.”
Vindman even joked about the attempts to question his loyalty. Asked which languages he speaks, he replied, in native English: “I speak Russian and Ukrainian and a little bit of English.” Asked whether he’s a “never-Trumper,” he replied: “never partisan.”
Democrats helped Vindman denounce Castor’s smear, a dual-loyalty accusation “cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit,” as Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.) put it.
Chairman Adam Schiff (Calif.) read a statement by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calling Vindman a “patriotic and loyal officer.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.), like Vindman a child immigrant, choked up as he said: “You and your family represent the very best of America.”
And Rep. Sean Maloney (N.Y.) asked Vindman how he can reassure his father of his safety despite Trump’s attacks.
“Congressman, because this is America,” Vindman replied. “This is the country I served and defended, that all my brothers have served. And here, right matters.”
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