Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is a Purple Heart recipient. He’s also the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.
The GOP strategy for defending Donald Trump in the impeachment inquiry rests in part on deriding Vindman by calling into question his patriotism and expertise.
That’s pretty much all you need to know about Vindman’s public testimony, which comes less than three weeks after he spoke to House investigators for the first time about the Ukraine scandal that threatens to upend the Trump White House headed into an election year. House Republicans are that desperate – desperate enough to smear a decorated veteran for recounting events as he experienced them.
Vindman listened to the infamous July call between Trump and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky and came away so concerned that he alerted the NSC’s counsel. He was later instructed to keep quiet by John Eisenberg. Or at least that’s his version. He also told lawmakers during closed-toor testimony last month that Zelensky was likely prepped for the call with Trump and that “Burisma” was intentionally left out of the memorandum documenting the conversation in order, one assumes, to obscure how overt the quid pro quo really was.
On Tuesday, he testified publicly, alongside Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams, who Trump blasted in a weekend tweet after learning that during her earlier remarks to Congress, she described the Zelensky call as “unusual” and “inappropriate”.
Trump’s surrogates on the Hill were looking to seize on the testimony of Tim Morrison who, despite largely confirming the quid pro quo that tied military aid and a White House visit for Zelensky to a public announcement of an investigation into the Bidens, expressed skepticism about Vindman. In Morrison’s judgment, the Lt. Col “did not exercise appropriate judgment as to whom he would say what”.
During Vindman’s testimony on Tuesday, the White House blasted out an email accusing the combat veteran of exercising “poor judgment, leaking, and going around normal procedures”.
The early highlight of Vindman’s remarks came when he chided Devin Nunes for referring to him as “Mr. Vindman”. “It’s Lt. Col”, Vindman corrected.
His testimony was largely in keeping with what he told lawmakers in October. In Vindman’s estimation, the US president engaged in a highly inappropriate scheme to effectively blackmail the Ukrainians into interfering with the 2020 election by launching politically motivated investigations into Trump’s rivals in exchange for the un-freezing of congressionally-approved military aid.
Crucially, both Vindman and Williams claim Burisma was mentioned specifically on the July call between Trump and Zelensky. If true, it would suggest that the White House intentionally omitted critical passages from the “transcript” that was released to the public.
Vindman also made clear what would happen to him (and, by extension, to the other witnesses who have spoken to lawmakers over the past six weeks) if Washington were Moscow.
“My simple act of appearing here today would not be tolerated in many places”, he said. “In Russia, my act of expressing concern to the chain of command would have severe repercussions”.
“Offering testimony involving [President Putin] would surely cost me my life”, he added.