President Trump Military Leaders
Credit: The White House/Flickr

It was only a week ago that a chorus of people on both the left and right rose up to defend Tulsi Gabbard from Hillary Clinton’s statement that “she’s the favorite of the Russians” by pointing to Gabbard’s military service. The point was that someone who has served honorably should never have their loyalty to America questioned.

Trump’s enablers, however, are in a very difficult position right now. With every witness being deposed in the House impeachment inquiry, the picture of an American president pressuring a foreign government to smear his political opponents grows more clear. They are now the ones who are attacking the loyalty of someone who served honorably in the military.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, is set to become the first current White House staffer to testify. Danny Hakim reports on what he will say in his prepared opening statement.

He will be the first White House official to testify who listened in on the July 25 telephone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“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,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma 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,” Colonel Vindman added, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments in the call.

Vindman didn’t think what Trump did was “proper” because it wasn’t. For those of us who deal in facts, that is the bottom line. But if your task is to defend the president, no matter what he does, your job is a little more difficult. That is why congressional Republicans have relied almost exclusively on criticizing the process of the impeachment inquiry rather than the substance of the testimony being provided.

With Vindman’s testimony looming, Trump’s enablers have decided that their only defense is to attack the messenger. But how do you do that for someone with this resume?

Alexander S. Vindman and his twin brother, Yevgeny, were 3 years old when they fled Ukraine with their father and grandmother, Jewish refugees with only their suitcases and $750, hoping for a better life in the United States.

In the 40 years since, he has become a scholar, diplomat, decorated lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and Harvard-educated Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council.

If you are Sean Duffy, CNN’s latest Trump-enabling commentator, you question his loyalty to the United States.

It seems very clear that [Vindman] is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don’t know about his concern [for] American policy, but his main mission was to make sure the Ukraine got those weapons. I understand it: We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from. Like me, I’m sure that Vindman has the same affinity…He’s entitled to his opinion, he has an affinity, I think, for the Ukraine, he speaks Ukrainian, he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free.

It was actually Laura Ingraham who first leveled this kind of attack on Vindman Monday night. She zeroed in on this part of the report from Danny Hakim.

While Colonel Vindman’s concerns were shared by a number of other officials, some of whom have already testified, he was in a unique position. Because he emigrated from Ukraine along with his family when he was a child and is fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, Ukrainian officials sought advice from him about how to deal with Mr. Giuliani, though they typically communicated in English.

Ingraham twisted that into an accusation that Vindman was working as a double agent, 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.” Her guest, John Yoo, responded by saying “You know, some people might call that espionage.” Note the rather Freudian slip from Ingraham in accusing Vindman of working against “the president’s interest.” Even she can’t suggest that what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine was in the country’s national interest.

So is this a case of “both sides do it,” with both Clinton and Trump enablers questioning the loyalty of people who have served in the military? Not even close.

First of all, Clinton never questioned Gabbard’s loyalty. She merely pointed to something that was already in the public record: “she’s the favorite of the Russians.” In other words, there is evidence to support Clinton’s claims.

On the other hand, Trump’s enablers have zero evidence when it comes to their attacks on Vindman. Coming to this country as a 3 year-old refugee is the quintessential American story. Duffy’s charge is reminiscent of that time when Trump questioned the impartiality of a federal judge because of his Mexican heritage. Using someone’s ethnicity or country of origin as a way to question their loyalty to this country is the definition of what we mean when we use the word “deplorable.”

At the time that Vindman was attempting to advise Ukrainians about the pressure they were getting from Giuliani, the official public position of the United States was to assist that country in their defense against Russian incursion. Giuliani has made it abundantly clear that his efforts were to assist his client, Donald Trump, not to promote our national interests. So you can understand why the Ukrainians were confused and went to a trusted source for guidance.

In the end, military service is no defense against charges of criminality or corruption. Anyone who doubts that should simply look at what transpired with Michael Flynn. Just as with any other American, it is the facts that matter. The smears against Lt. Col. Vindman aren’t deplorable because he served in the military. They deserve that characterization because they are devoid of evidence and are therefore nothing more than an attempt to attack the messenger.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.