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White House, Republicans take aim at war hero to defend Trump

If you're attacking the character of a decorated American war hero for having the audacity to tell the truth, you're losing.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council. As part of the ongoing impeachment proceedings, he's also a witness with tough-to-dismiss credibility: the lieutenant colonel is a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who earned a Purple Heart.

And as the world saw yesterday, Vindman also has devastating insights into Donald Trump's apparent wrongdoing as part of the Ukraine extortion scheme. For his trouble, as NBC News noted, the war hero "faced repeated character attacks from several House Intelligence Republicans," including not-so-subtle innuendo about his loyalties.

In one case, Steve Castor, the counsel for committee Republicans, asked a series of questions about whether Vindman had at one point been offered the post of Ukrainian defense minister by a Ukrainian politician.Vindman, for his part, said such a request occurred three times, but that he dismissed the offers immediately, reported them to his superiors and to counterintelligence authorities, and told Castor it's no secret where his allegiance is."I'm an American," he said.That the topic came up at all seemed to be part of a clear effort by Republican to discredit the allegiance of Vindman. Several conservatives have used the same tactic, including Fox News personalities.

By most measures, it was the ugliest thing we've seen as part of the public impeachment hearings. Dana Milbank noted, "[F]or pure maliciousness, it is hard to top the gall of Trump partisans who question Vindman's loyalty." The columnist characterized it as "sheer McCarthyism."

As dishonorable as the House Republicans' conduct appeared, things were no better a mile and a half down Pennsylvania Avenue. The New York Times reported overnight on the White House going after Vindman and Jennifer Williams, a top foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, by name.

In President Trump's Washington, where attacks on his enemies real or perceived have become so routine that they now often pass unnoticed, that might not seem all that remarkable -- but for the fact that Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams both still work for the very same White House that was publicly assailing them.With the president's allies joining in, the two aides found themselves condemned as nobodies, as plotting bureaucrats, as traitors within and, in Colonel Vindman's case, as an immigrant with dual loyalties. Even for a president who rarely spares the rhetorical howitzer, that represents a new level of bombardment.Mr. Trump has publicly disparaged cabinet secretaries, former aides and career officials working elsewhere in the government, but now he is taking aim at people still working for him inside the White House complex by name.

The article quoted William Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush, saying, "While many previous White House staffs have feuded with each other and leaked against each other, this is the first time in history I am aware of a White House openly attacking its own staff -- especially for merely upholding their constitutional duties."

This included the president himself, who took some time at yesterday's cabinet meeting to take a few rhetorical shots at the lieutenant colonel, even making a snide comment about Vindman appearing on Capitol Hill in uniform.

I realize that Vindman's testimony was brutally effective and did the White House no favors. But if you're attacking the character of a decorated American war hero for having the audacity to tell the truth, you're losing.