As Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman began testifying Tuesday in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the president’s allies coalesced around a new talking point. Vindman, some pundits contended, may be loyal to Ukraine because he was born there.

The attack on the Army officer — who came to the United States at age 3, was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq and now serves as a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council — quickly drew condemnation.

“If that’s all they’ve got, is to question the patriotism of a lieutenant colonel who took a bullet for us and has a Purple Heart on the battlefield, well, good luck to them,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.). “My goodness.”

Some Republicans joined the criticism, defending Vindman and denouncing the attacks on him. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that he’s confident Vindman is “doing his best to serve his country” and that he “wouldn’t be on board” with efforts to disparage him.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said it was “shameful” to cast aspersions on the veteran.

“We need to show that we are better than that as a nation,” Cheney said, according to CNN. “Their patriotism, their love of country, we’re talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who have put their lives on the line. It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said, “I don’t at all question his patriotism. I respect his service. He’s a Purple Heart and I think it’d be a mistake to attack his patriotism.”

Vindman was among the White House officials who listened in on the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. He was expected to tell House investigators that he worried Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate his political rival would undermine national security.

The claim that Vindman was acting in Ukraine’s interest appears to have first emerged Monday night on Fox News’s “The Ingraham Angle” before being repeated on other shows. Host Laura Ingraham and her guests suggested that Vindman was working on behalf of Ukraine rather than the United States — and implied that he might be a spy.

Citing a New York Times report that said Ukrainian officials “sought advice” from Vindman on how to deal with Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Fox News host asked, “Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?”

One of her panelists, former Justice Department official John Yoo, responded, “I find that astounding, and some people might call that espionage.”

The backlash was swift.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman is briefly interviewed in Ken Burns’s 1985 film, “Statue of Liberty.” (Ken Burns UNUM/Florentine Films)

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, called Yoo’s comments “just shameful” on Twitter, adding, “In some countries, that would be a crime called libel.”

Conservative columnist David French shared a clip of the segment on Twitter and wrote, “The sheer number of American vets the Trumpists will insult, slander, and mock for the sake of their corrupt, draft-dodging dear leader is just astonishing.”

But the argument that Vindman was motivated by an allegiance to Ukraine kept making the rounds Tuesday morning. On “Fox & Friends,” host Brian Kilmeade noted Vindman’s military service but then added, “We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family young. He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.”

On CNN, former Republican congressman Sean P. Duffy said, “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy.”

He added, “We all have an affinity to our homeland, where we came from.”

CNN host John Berman, who appeared incredulous, said, “I’m sorry. Are you suggesting that you would put Irish defense over U.S. defense? Is that what you’re saying, Congressman Duffy?”

Duffy, who is of Irish descent, didn’t answer that question but said, “He has an affinity, I think, for the Ukraine. He speaks Ukrainian, he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free. I understand that.”

Some of the sharpest criticism of Duffy’s words came from within the network that now employs him as a contributor. CNN anchor Brianna Keilar aired his comments in a segment on her show, calling them a sign of desperation on the part of Trump defenders.

“That is some anti-immigrant bigotry,” she said, “and it’s an odd questioning of patriotism coming from Sean Duffy, the guy who spent part of his 20s on MTV’s ‘The Real World’ and ‘Real World Road Rules Challenge’ while Alexander Vindman spent his on foreign deployments.”

In his prepared statement, which was first reported by the New York Times, Vindman emphasized his commitment to the United States, writing that he has dedicated his entire professional life to the country. He noted his Ukrainian roots, saying that after fleeing the Soviet Union, “my family worked to build its own American Dream.”

“I am a patriot,” Vindman wrote, “and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics.”

Read more: