Prominent Republicans joined Democrats on Tuesday in defending Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman against attacks from right-wing pundits who questioned his loyalty to the country ahead of his testimony in the House’s impeachment inquiry.
The reaction came after Fox News host Laura Ingraham and others suggested Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council who fled the Soviet Union as child, could be demonstrating disloyalty — and even potentially traitorous behavior — to the United States because, according to a report in The New York Times, Ukrainian officials asked him for advice in dealing with Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani's efforts regarding their country.
“I think that we need to show that we are better than that as a nation," Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the third-ranking House Republican, said at a GOP leadership news conference Tuesday. "Their patriotism, their love of country — we’re talking about decorated veterans who have served their country, who have put their lives on the line. And it is shameful to question their patriotism and their love of this nation.”
Ingraham brought up the Times' reporting on her show Monday night, saying, “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, and usually, they spoke in English. Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?”
“I find that astounding,” a panelist, former George W. Bush Justice Department official John Yoo, responded. “Some people might call that espionage.”
The attacks continued Tuesday morning, with former Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy echoing Ingraham’s accusation on CNN.
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"It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense; I don't know that he's concerned about American policy,” Duffy said, adding, “we all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from,” and “he has an affinity for the Ukraine."
"Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade also alleged Vindman was sympathetic to Ukraine.
"We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family young," Kilmeade said. "He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine."
On Tuesday morning, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., weighed in on the attacks in an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe," telling co-host Mika Brzezinski, “It's despicable. It's not who I am as a West Virginian. I can assure you, Mika, this is not normal. There's nothing normal about this.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden also blasted Vindman's critics on Tuesday.
"This guy won the Purple Heart," Biden, a leading 2020 contender, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "This guy is a hero, this guy is a patriot. This is just Trump's style. It's the same reason why he has a bunch of his thugs out there, you know, engaging in this kind of activity of intimidation. I mean this is, this is despicable to do this to — this guy is a patriot. I've never met him, but he's a hell of a patriot."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a frequent Trump critic, also decried the personal attacks on Vindman.
“It’s absurd, disgusting, and way off the mark," Romney told reporters on Tuesday. "This is a decorated American soldier and he should be given the respect that his service to our country demands."
The attacks began after Vindman's opening statement for Tuesday's closed-door deposition were released Monday night. In them, Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran, detailed his concerns about President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump asked for an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter. Vindman is the first witness to the call to appear before impeachment investigators.
"I was concerned by the call," Vindman said the prepared remarks. "I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine."
If Ukraine pursued the investigation, Vindman wrote, "it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security."
Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration, praised Vindman in a tweet Monday night and called the attacks on the witness “shameful.”
“I served with Lt. Colonel Vindman in Moscow," McFaul wrote. "Vindman is a patriot, who has served his country with honor and distinction, both on and off the battlefield. He was an absolutely first-rate military attache at the embassy, one of the best on the team.”
Jeremy Bash, a former CIA chief of staff under President Barack Obama, said in an interview with MSNBC’s Brian Williams on Monday night that the attacks were "despicable."
“I think they’re alleging a U.S. Army colonel is a traitor,” Bash said. “Here we have the followers of Donald Trump doing what I think is absolutely despicable, which is claiming that not only is he against Trump, but he’s un-American, and I don’t think Republicans, Democrats, anybody who cares about our country, are going to stand for that.”