November 20, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Actually, Donald Trump’s Loyalty, Not Alex Vindman’s, Is Questionable

Gordon Sondland implicated Trump in a criminal conspiracy.

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I have to get this newsletter out by lunch, so I can’t dig too deeply into Gordon Sondland’s testimony, which is happening as I write. The bottom line, though: he’s throwing people under the bus to save himself from being thrown under the bus. In the process, he’s implicating the president, the vice president, the secretary of state—everyone in “the loop”—in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people.

Again, I’ll talk more later about testimony by the US ambassador to the European Union. For now, I want to put in context Sondland’s confirmation that Donald Trump withheld aid and a White House visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for his public announcement for investigations into the Bidens, Burisma (the energy firm Hunter Biden worked for) and the 2016 US presidential election.

The president, the vice president, the secretary of state—everyone in “the loop”—are implicated in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people.

The question I have in that context is what the Republicans are going to do about their disgraceful behavior yesterday when they questioned the loyalty of career Army official and combat veteran Lt. Col. Alex Vindman. What are they going to do now that we know that everyone “in the loop” knew what Trump wanted? Vindman, an official at the National Security Council, was on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. He called Trump’s bribe-seeking (my word) “improper” and “wrong.” His testimony was corroborated by Jennifer Williams, his counterpart in the vice president’s office.

He’s also an immigrant Jew. His parents emigrated to the US from Ukraine when he was toddler. All of his siblings served in the military. His opening statement included a note to his dad, saying that he’d be fine, don’t worry, truth matters in America. Later on, he said “right matters” here, too. And yet the Republicans, including ranking member Devin Nunes, doubted whether he was truly loyal given that he’d once been asked to be Ukraine’s minister of defense. Trump’s right-wing media allies have even suggested that Vindman is a double agent, spying for Ukraine’s government. Truth doesn’t matter to this GOP. Power matters. If they must cut down a patriot, so be it.

Anyone watching could see the pain in Vindman’s face. He wiped away a tear after Jim Himes, a Connecticut congressman, said: “the three minutes that were spent asking you about the offer made to make you the Minister of Defense, that may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give right-wing media an opening to question your loyalty.”

It’s what you stoop to when the indefensibility of your case requires that you attack a man who is wearing a Springfield rifle on a field of blue above a Purple Heart.

So what I want to know is if these Republicans are going to apologize. They should, and not just because their behavior was immoral and disgusting. According to Matthew Simkowitz and Yelena Biberman, Soviet Jews who came to the US in the 1970s are more likely to vote Republican and support Trump’s policies than average Americans. Not only did Nunes and Jim Jordan slander Vindman; they betrayed everyone who believed in the Republican Party standing against the “Evil Empire.”

The president’s right-wing media allies have suggested that Alex Vindman is a double agent.

Worse, they betray these people in the service of a president who is himself betraying America. Sondland’s opening statement laid out concrete evidence (emails, text messages) of the president and his administration trying to rewrite the history of the last election to hurt his enemies (Joe Biden and the Democrats) and help his friends (namely, Vladimir Putin). His interests are not America’s. All of this has been an effort to validate (to make real) a Kremlin lie—Ukraine, not Russia, attacked the US in 2016.

Some people are already saying Sondland’s testimony means game over for the president. But that assumes facts and the truth matter enough for Senate Republicans to turn. Many of them need his supporters to win reelection in 2020. If they turn, it will be the result of tremendous pressure for them to make a choice: Trump or America.

That’s why we need to remind the Republicans what they did to Vindman. Trump was bribe-seeking not just for himself but for the Kremlin. That’s been clear for weeks. Yet Nunes and the rest attack anyone calling attention to wrongdoing. We have to remind the public that this is how far the party is willing to go to maintain its grip on power.

Somebody’s loyalty is questionable.

It’s not Vindman’s.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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