Trump allies on Fox and CNN preempt damning testimony with smears

Dylan Stableford
Senior Writer

In the latest effort by President Trump’s media defenders to discredit the impeachment investigation, commentators on Fox and CNN implied that Tuesday’s witness, a decorated war veteran and member of the National Security Council, might be a traitor.

Even one of Trump’s strongest backers in Congress, Rep. Liz Cheney., R-Wyo., called the attack on Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman “shameful.”

Vindman, who was born in Ukraine and came to the U.S. with his parents at the age of 3, was expected to tell House investigators that he was on the line for Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and was troubled by Trump’s demand for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” Vindman’s prepared opening statement read in part. “And I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”

On Fox News Monday night, Laura Ingraham cited a New York Times article, noting that Ukrainian officials sought Vindman’s advice on how to deal with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was pressing Trump’s demands on Ukraine. Ingraham said she found it “very interesting” that Vindman, who is fluent in both English and Ukrainian, would sometimes speak to officials in Kiev in their language.

“Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interests and usually they spoke in English,” Ingraham said. “Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?”

“Some people might call that espionage,” replied John Yoo, a former deputy assistant U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush and one of the guests on Ingraham’s show.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and President Trump. (Photos: Siphiwe Sibeko, Evan Vucci/AP)

On MSNBC, former CIA chief of staff Jeremy Bash called Yoo’s characterization “despicable.”

“Lt. Col. Vindman is a soldier, a wounded Iraq War veteran, combat veteran,” Bash said. “His primary duty of loyalty is to the country, to the Constitution.”

In his opening statement to House investigators, which was first reported by the Times, Vindman said he reported his concerns about the July call to a superior officer.

Appearing on CNN Tuesday morning, former GOP Rep. Sean Duffy, a newly hired contributor to the cable news network, implied that Vindman was acting out of concern for Ukraine’s military requirements. One focus of the House investigation is the allegation by numerous officials that the White House held up military aid to Kiev as a way to enforce Trump’s demand for political help.

“It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” Duffy said. “I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy, but his main mission was to make sure that the Ukraine got those weapons. I understand it: We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from.

“... He has an affinity, I think, for the Ukraine,” Duffy said of Vindman, who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq. “He speaks Ukrainian, he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free.”

“Are you saying that Col. Vindman, a decorated war veteran, isn’t looking out for America first?” CNN host John Berman asked.

“I don’t know,” Duffy replied.

Helping Ukraine resist aggression by Russia, which occupies part of the country and has been supporting separatist guerrillas, is stated U.S. policy.

CNN's Brianna Keilar later excoriated Duffy for questioning Vindman's patriotism.

“That is some anti-immigrant bigotry," Keilar said on air during her afternoon show. "And it’s an odd questioning of patriotism coming from Sean Duffy, the guy who spent part of his 20s on MTV’s ‘The Real World/Road Rules Challenge’ while Alexander Vindman spent his on foreign deployments, including one to Iraq where he earned a Purple Heart after he was injured a roadside bomb.”

On “Fox & Friends,” co-host Brian Kilmeade echoed Duffy’s line of attack.

“If you look at this lieutenant colonel’s background, he’s got a Purple Heart, he got hit by an IED in Iraq,” Kilmeade said. “We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, immigrated with his family, young. He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine."

The attempts at character assassination didn’t sit well with Cheney, who called them “shameful.”

“We’re talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation who put their lives on the line,” Cheney told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday morning. “And it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this country.”

Sen. Mitt Romney called the attacks on Vindman’s patriotism “absurd” and “disgusting.”

“This is a decorated American soldier,” Romney told reporters. “And he should be given the respect that his service to our country demands.”

“That guy’s a Purple Heart. I think it would be a mistake to attack his credibility,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told Politico. “You can obviously take issue with the substance and there are different interpretations about all that stuff. But I wouldn’t go after him personally. He’s a patriot.”

In a tweet before Vindman’s appearance on Capitol Hill, Trump sought to paint him as a hostile witness.

“Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call ‘concerned’ today’s Never Trumper witness,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Was he on the same call that I was? Can’t be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!”

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