House Republicans and the White House on Tuesday continued to attack witnesses appearing before the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, risking the same result as Friday, when a Trump Twitter attack against a witness turned her into a sympathetic figure for Democrats.
The latest attacks concerned National Security Council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified Tuesday that Trump made an “improper” demand of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in requesting that the Eastern European country investigate his potential 2020 political rival, Joe Biden. House Republicans’ counsel repeatedly asked Vindman about a job offer he received to be Ukraine’s defense minister, raising questions about his loyalty to the United States.
The attack demonstrated that Trump and allies in the House Republican caucus would rather attempt to damage the credibility of witnesses than launch a vigorous defense of Trump’s underlying conduct on the July 25 call with Zelensky.
House Republicans’ counsel, Steve Castor, repeatedly pressed Vindman, who emigrated as a toddler from the Soviet Union to the United States, about the offer.
“Every single time, I dismissed it. Upon returning, I notified my chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks about this offer,” Vindman responded. “I’m an American. I came here when I was a toddler, and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them.”
Castor asked, “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?”
“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.
On Friday, Trump attacked the witness, former Ukraine Amb. Marie Yovanovitch, tweeting that everywhere she went “turned bad,” turning her into a sympathetic witness for Democrats. Vindman, born to a Soviet Jewish family in Ukraine and appearing in an American military uniform, brushed off Castor’s charges.
Democrats said that Republicans were charging Vindman with a smear. “That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give the right-wing media an opening to questioning your loyalties,” Rep Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said in the hearing. (When Vindman testified behind closed doors on October 29, Fox News personalities questioned his loyalty to the United States.)
Yet, House Republicans defended this line of questioning from Castor.
“I think it’s just a perception issue. Like I said, the Colonel wasn’t concerned. He answered the question fine,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told reporters Tuesday. He added that the Democrats’ charge of dual loyalty was “ridiculous” and that Castor did an “amazing” job.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) rejected that Republicans were trying to smear Vindman with a “dual loyalty” charge and said that the context of the offer was important. “They’re just trying to say, these conversations can get pretty broad and all over the place,” he told Fortune outside the hearing room. “For all we know, he’s been flattering and saying ‘you seem to know so much. We should just have you on.’ Who knows what the context is.”
The Ukrainian official who made the offer told The Daily Beast that he was joking when he asked Vindman to be defense minister.
Republicans also tried to question why Vindman was wearing his uniform before Congress, which is routine attire for members of the military. “I see you’re wearing your dress uniform, knowing that’s not your uniform of the day, you normally wear a suit to the White House,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) said to him, proceeding to thank him for his service.
“I’m in uniform wearing my military rank. I thought it was appropriate to stick with that. The attacks that I’ve had in the press and Twitter have marginalized me as a military officer,” Vindman responded.
The White House—not the president’s personal account—tweeted an attack on Vindman. “Tim Morrison, Alexander Vindman’s former boss, testified in his deposition that he had concerns about Vindman’s judgment,” read the tweet. (Trump called him a “Never Trumper” on Twitter on October 29, the date of his closed-door testimony.)
Vindman still works for the Trump administration at the National Security Council and has not quit his job.
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