Last night, the New York Times reported that Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert in the National Security Council, will testify to the House that he expressed grave concerns about President Trump’s politicized extortion of Ukraine’s president. Vindman will be the first White House official who took part in the July 25 phone call to testify. The Republican response to Vindman’s testimony is already clear: They are smearing him as a Ukrainian spy.
The Times reports that, in his capacity as NSC Ukraine adviser, Vindman was often contacted by Ukrainian officials who were confused about the extortionate demands being made on them by Rudy Giuliani. Laura Ingraham seized upon this sentence last night:
“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,” said an incredulous Ingraham 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.”
Vindman is a decorated Army lieutenant colonel and an Iraq War veteran with a Purple Heart. That, of course, does not mean his conduct cannot be criticized. But Vindman testifies that he reported all his concerns over Trump up the chain of command, following procedure and working within official channels.
It was the object of his concern, Rudy Giuliani, who was going around official channels. Indeed, Giuliani was pressuring Ukrainian officials not only on behalf of Trump as a private client — a completely inappropriate interference in foreign policy — but also on behalf of the Russian gangsters who were paying him and running a side hustle shaking down Ukraine’s energy department.
The Republican position is that there’s no loyalty problem involved in having American foreign policy conducted by an off-the-books lawyer with no security clearance who was apparently on the payroll of the Russian Mafia. The security problem is the NSC official advising an American ally about how to deal with the goons demanding that the ally subvert the independence of its judicial system and insert itself into the American election, and also that it give the goons a little taste of the gas-import business. The Republicans’ logic is that Giuliani and his sleazy clients represent “the president’s interest,” as Ingraham put it. And the president’s interest, however corrupt or improper, is the national interest. If you are working at cross-purposes with Rudy and his thugs, you must be disloyal to America.