WASHINGTON ― Republicans on Tuesday came to the defense of a decorated war veteran and key witness in the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump after some of the president’s allies questioned the man’s patriotism and loyalty to the country.
What Republicans did not do, however, was challenge any aspect of his account of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, 44, testified behind closed doors that he was so troubled by Trump’s call with Zelensky, which he heard in real-time, that he twice reported it internally to his superiors.
“I am a patriot,” Vindman said in his opening statement, “and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.” Vindman added that he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” referring to Trump’s urging of Ukraine’s government to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his family.
Vindman currently serves as the top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council. He immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child and subsequently served multiple overseas tours in South Korea, Germany and Iraq, where he was injured by a roadside bomb for which he received the Purple Heart.
But several of Trump’s top allies ― including Fox News host Laura Ingraham, lawyer John Yoo and former Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin ― suggested Vindman had dual loyalties on the basis of his being born in Ukraine. Trump also repeatedly sought to dismiss Vindman’s testimony on Twitter, calling him a “Never Trumper witness.”
The attacks on Vindman’s credibility were not echoed by top Republicans on Capitol Hill, however, who mostly repeated their complaints about the House impeachment process when asked about Vindman.
“I’m not going to question the patriotism of any of the people coming forward,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters at a weekly press conference.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who also served in Iraq, said the attacks on Vindman were “inappropriate” and called him an “honorable” man.
The attacks on Vindman are “absurd, disgusting, and way off the mark,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
“This is a decorated American soldier and he should be given the respect his service to our country demands,” Romney added.
Few Republicans challenged the substance of Vindman’s account on Tuesday, however, despite Trump and his top aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner urging lawmakers to defend the president on the facts of the matter. Instead, GOP lawmakers repeated familiar refrains about not having read Vindman’s testimony yet and declined to comment. Some sought to dismiss it outright as old news.
“It sounds like it’s just a reiteration of what we already know,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters on Tuesday when asked about Vindman’s opening statement.
Vindman is the first witness with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s July 25 phone call to testify in the House’s impeachment inquiry. Last month, after a complaint from a Trump administration whistleblower was first made public, Republicans dismissed the whistleblower’s account based on the fact the person said they were not a direct witness to the president’s phone call.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday evening that Vindman’s account changed nothing about his view of the president’s phone call. The National Security Council member and Ukraine expert, Graham said, is “entitled to his opinion about the phone call. I read the transcript and found nothing wrong with it.”
But Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) reiterated he did not consider Trump’s phone call appropriate, even as he maintained it didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
The Ohio Republican also argued that impeachment was not the appropriate way to handle the matter because of the approaching 2020 election.
“When you’re in the middle of the process of an election, everybody ought to have a chance to vote,” Portman told HuffPost.