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Trump Impeachment Hearings: Alexander Vindman Testifies to the Power of Truth

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The attacks on Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council official who testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning, began well before he sat down at the witness table. Vindman, who is still an active-duty officer in the U.S. military, was born in Kyiv, and his family moved to Brooklyn in 1979, when he was three. Last month, in a closed-door session of the committee, he testified about the July 25th call between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, which he had reported to the N.S.C.’s lead counsel because he thought it was inappropriate; after his testimony, some right-wing commentators accused him of being a Ukrainian sympathizer or even a double agent.

These scurrilous attacks mainly came from members of Trump’s media chorus, but, as Vindman prepared for Tuesday’s public testimony, he also came under assault by prominent Republican politicians. In an open letter to the G.O.P. members of the House Intelligence Committee, Senator Ron Johnson, the head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, suggested that Vindman perhaps “fits the profile” of “bureaucrats” who have “never accepted President Trump as legitimate and . . . react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office.” On Monday evening, the Republican congressman Douglas Collins, who is the ranking G.O.P. member of the House Judiciary Committee, also sent a letter expressing concern regarding Vindman’s “credibility and judgment.”

If this barrage intimidated Vindman, it didn’t show during his testimony. Dressed in his full Army regalia—with a Purple Heart that he received after being wounded outside Fallujah, in 2004, pinned to his breast and two gold epaulets on his shoulders—he began by saying, “I have dedicated my entire professional life to the United States of America.” Then he ran through a chronology of the Ukraine scandal, beginning in April, 2019, when he “became aware of two disruptive actors—primarily Ukraine’s then prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney—promoting false information that undermined the United States’ Ukraine policy.” Speaking in a firm voice, Vindman explained that he reported the July 25th phone call “out of a sense of duty,” because it was “improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.”

At the end of his opening statement, Vindman gave a shout-out to the other public servants who had agreed to testify before the committee, despite “vile character attacks,” and expressed his pride in serving in the Army, “the only profession I have ever known.” Then he got personal, pointing out that next month “will mark forty years since my family arrived in the United States as refugees.” His father’s “act of hope” to leave Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, and start over in the United States, he said, had “inspired a deep sense of gratitude in my brothers and myself, and instilled in us a sense of duty and service.” Then he smiled and briefly acknowledged his two siblings, sitting behind him in the hearing room, who also serve or have served in the U.S. armed forces.

Vindman wasn’t quite finished. He recognized, he said, that “my simple act of appearing here today” would not be tolerated in many countries, and in Russia it would “surely cost me my life.” He added that he was grateful for the privilege of being an American citizen and a public servant, then he read out his closing paragraph: “Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America, in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”

That final sentence was the quote of the hearings so far. In just eleven words, it cut through all the partisanship, the spectacle, and the carefully orchestrated diversions. It was an American soldier’s expression of belief in the U.S. Constitution that he had sworn to protect and serve and in the political system that embodies its values. It was an immigrant’s expression of faith in the continued existence of the country that welcomed him and his family forty years ago. And it was a Brighton Beach “Screw you!” to the right-wing thugs and mugs that would love to silence him and rob him of his dignity.

As Vindman might have expected, it didn’t spare him from further Republican efforts to disparage him and question his loyalty. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, asked him whether he had discussed the July 25th phone call with any members of the media or accessed the computer of a colleague without the person’s knowledge and approval. In neither instance did Nunes provide any basis for his questions, which Vindman answered in the negative. The sole goal of these inquiries, it seemed, was to provide a sound bite or viral video for Trump-supporting media outlets.

Nunes also asked Vindman to identify an unnamed intelligence officer he had briefed about the July 25th call, as part of his duty to coördinate interagency policy. This was a blatant attempt to tie the witness to the anonymous intelligence whistle-blower, who has been identified in press reports as a C.I.A. officer with access to the White House, and perhaps an initial effort to get Vindman to identify the whistle-blower outright. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, quickly shut down Nunes’s line of questioning, but, a bit later in the hearing, Jim Jordan, the shirt-sleeved Ohio hit man, tried again—until Schiff shut him down, too.

The effort to undermine Vindman didn’t stop there. In response to questions from Stephen Castor, the Republican staff counsel, Vindman confirmed that Oleksandr Danylyuk, the Ukrainian national-security adviser, had offered him the job of defense minister in the new Ukrainian government. Vindman said he rebuffed the offer, which was made in the presence of two other U.S. officials, and subsequently reported the interaction to his superiors. Danylyuk later told the Daily Beast that the offer was a joke. “I’m an American,” Vindman said. “I came here when I was a toddler, and I immediately dismissed these offers. I did not entertain them.” Rather than leaving it there, Castor suggested that Vindman might have left the door open. “I didn’t leave the door open at all,” Vindman said quickly. Then he cracked a half-grin and added, “Counsel, the whole thing is rather comical. . . . It is pretty funny for a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, which really is not that senior a position, to be offered that illustrious a position.”

What isn’t funny at all is for the elected representatives of a major political party to question, on live television, the loyalty of a decorated military officer who has served his country for more than twenty years, under four Presidents. That is where we are. Bereft of any substantive defense of Trump, the House Republicans are betting everything on their alternative narrative, in which the deep state and its media allies cooked up the entire Ukraine story. The point isn’t necessarily to make this narrative believable in any objective sense. For the purposes of the White House and its G.O.P. allies, it will suffice to make it believable enough for the conservative media and Trump’s supporters to rally around. That isn’t a high standard to meet.

Still, nonpartisan public servants, like Vindman, who witnessed what actually happened and are willing to talk about it, stand in the way of this strategy, so the Republicans have to vilify and undermine them. Judging by Vindman’s unruffled manner and his occasional quips, he understands this and, at least to some extent, has inured himself to it. As he explained in his opening statement, he has enough faith in his country to believe that, ultimately, the truth will win out. If he’s proved wrong, it will be a tragedy for him and for the rest of us.



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Thanks !

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