The Republican game plan is to further the notion that Vindman disloyally worked to undermine Trump’s foreign policies because he disagreed with them. At its core, however, the story Republicans will tell rests not just on an effort to smear Vindman’s impure intentions toward Trump, but also on a big lie of a very different sort.
That big lie is the idea that Trump’s actions in this scandal were rooted in some sort of conception of foreign policy shaped around the national interest, when in fact they were entirely about furthering his own profoundly corrupt personal and political ends.
Vindman is expected to reiterate numerous claims he made in private testimony that are very damaging to Trump. Vindman will likely discuss a July 10 meeting at which Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union and a key Trump ringleader, directly pressed Ukrainian officials to launch the sham investigations Trump wanted.
Republicans are already telegraphing their response. They will say unelected bureaucrats like Vindman were improperly trying to “sabotage” the elected president’s foreign policies, as Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) put it in a new letter to House Republicans.
Or, as The Post reports, Republicans plan to “try to discredit” Vindman “by questioning his motives and his loyalty to the president.”
Trump himself signaled his approval of this general line, retweeting a tweet from lickspittle loyalist Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) fulminating that the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is based on “unelected bureaucrats airing their policy grievances with the president.”
A lot of the analysis out there focuses on the risk Republicans are taking by questioning Vindman’s loyalty to the president. The “Morning Joe” panel just tore into this strategy, labeling it “offensive.” And Vindman’s lawyers plan to respond by stressing his service to country.
But let’s not get snowed by the devious game that Republicans are playing here.
The GOP game
The game isn’t just to question Vindman’s motives. It’s also to further the underlying idea that Vindman — and, indeed, all the diplomats and professionals who have testified about this plot — have been fundamentally driven by a dispute with Trump over policy, which is indeed ultimately set by the president.
That lie, in turn, is designed to mask the ugly, throbbing truth at the core of this whole affair, which most Republicans refuse to concede in public: Trump was solely driven by corrupt self-interest.
Whatever the political risks it involves, a debate over Vindman’s motives (and that of other professionals) is designed to help Trump, by furthering the premise that this was about a policy disagreement.
The basic facts show that this is nonsense.
The scheme was corrupt all throughout
Let’s recap. Back in May, Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani publicly revealed the whole scheme, telegraphing months of pressure on Ukraine to investigate the 2016 Ukraine conspiracy theory and the Bidens — and not generic corruption — which he said would be “very helpful” to Trump.
Those months of pressure — to carry out investigations that would help Trump politically — are also documented in those texts among ambassadors.
We also know from the White House’s own summary of the call that Trump explicitly pressed Ukraine for investigations into the 2016 conspiracy theory and the Bidens — and not generic corruption.
Want more? Sondland testified he told Ukraine that those investigations were the condition for Trump to release the military aid, and the evidence is overwhelming that Sondland took direction from Trump throughout. State Department employee David Holmes testified he overheard Trump directly demanding from Sondland to know of the status of the Biden investigation. And so on.
Why this is deeply destructive
Trump himself has constantly pushed the idea that those testifying to the corrupt plot are “Never Trumpers” and “Deep State” denizens out to get him. This is pernicious and destructive in a much deeper sense as well.
As political theorists Laura Field and Sean Illing have shown, the coin of the Trumpist post-truth realm is confusion and nihilism. The basic goal is to eradicate public faith in the very idea that government professionals like Vindman might actually make reasoned judgments about Trump’s misconduct that are rooted in good-faith empiricism.
Such judgments can only be rooted in tribal disloyalty to Trump. You are either with Trump or against Trump. If you are against him, your facts and judgments are inherently suspect. The great body of known facts is thus rendered irrelevant.
This is unlikely to prove persuasive to the middle of the country, because the known facts are so overwhelming, the witnesses are such compelling and credible figures, and Trump’s corruption has been so obvious on so many fronts for so long.
There is a legitimate debate to be had over how far government professionals should go in questioning the policies of the elected executive. But what ultimately defines this situation at its corrupt core isn’t that in any way, shape or form, and no one is obliged to pretend it is.