Right takes aim at key White House witness, decorated combat vet

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman appears to have Donald Trump and his allies a little rattled, which makes a degree of sense under the circumstances. Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council, and according to his opening statement, he’ll testify to the congressional impeachment inquiry today about his concerns over Trump’s political scheme with Ukraine.

As we discussed earlier, Vindman is a White House official with direct, first-hand information about what transpired – he was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky – and his testimony appears likely to corroborate the testimony of other key witnesses.

Just as importantly, Vindman, who immigrated to the United States as a small child, is a witness with tough-to-dismiss credibility: the lieutenant colonel is a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who served in Iraq, where he was injured by an IED blast in the line of duty. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

This morning, Donald Trump nevertheless denounced Vindman as a “Never Trumper witness,” suggesting without evidence that the lieutenant colonel has suspect political motivations. As New York’s Jon Chait added, several prominent voices in conservative media have targeted him in even uglier ways.

“Here we have a U.S. national-security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interest,” [Fox News’ Laura Ingraham said] on her nightly show. “Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?” former Bush-administration lawyer John Yoo replied. “Some people might call that espionage.” (Alan Dershowitz, the third member of the colloquy, smiled along.)

This morning on cable news, the smear campaign continued. “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” said former congressman Sean Duffy on CNN. “I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy … We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from … he has an affinity for the Ukraine.” Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade added, “We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family. Young. He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.”

My point is not that decorated American combat veterans are always right or that their conclusions must never be challenged. That’s not how a responsible public discourse works in a free society.

It is nauseating, however, for Trump’s allies to publicly question Vindman’s loyalties because he’s an American immigrant who has the audacity to tell the truth about what he saw and heard at the White House.

If this seems at all familiar, it’s because the right has too often been willing to smear decorated American combat veterans who stand in conservatives’ way. The Swift-Boat campaign against John Kerry in 2004 was inexcusable – I won’t soon forget attendees to the Republican National Convention wearing band-aids to mock Kerry’s Purple Heart – and Donald Trump’s eagerness to mock John McCain’s military service was just as awful.

More recently, Robert Mueller, another decorated combat veteran, was on the receiving end of far-right attacks.

No one is immune.

Postscript: Trump suggested this morning that he’s “never even heard of” Alexander Vindman. As I noted on Twitter, that’s not a great line: the president, who’s been deeply and directly engaged on U.S. policy toward Ukraine, has never heard of the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council? Why not?