If you watched the House impeachment inquiry hearings Tuesday, or even if you just saw the clips, you know that cynicism won the day.
That’s not exactly breaking news — I mean, come on, it’s Congress — but this day was just a little worse than most.
For that, you can blame Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who works in the White House as the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert. You know the story. Vindman put his chances for career advancement at risk not only by sounding the alarm on Donald Trump’s notorious July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, but also by agreeing to testify about it before the House Intelligence Committee. It was through Vindman that we got confirmation about the secret server, where the transcript of the call was hidden from view.
In another time, in another place, Vindman might have been universally lauded for his bravery. It had happened before, as you could tell by the bemedaled chest on the dress blues uniform he wore to testify.
Instead he was smeared by the president, smeared by the committee’s minority counsel, smeared by a Republican senator, smeared by the usual comitteee suspects (Reps. Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes, if you didn’t know).
I know. This sounds like any other impeachment hearing day. There were three other witnesses on a long, long Tuesday. Two of them were requested by Republicans, which they must have come to regret, because all of those testified came to more or less the same conclusion. It seems there are few career diplomats prepared to say that the July 25 phone call was perfect or, for that matter, that Trump’s ask for the “favor” of investigating Joe and Hunter Biden wasn’t improper or unacceptable or, well, shocking.
Kurt Volker, a career diplomat who volunteered to help on Ukraine, ended up having to work with jokers like Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland and, for his troubles, was tabbed one of the Three Amigos. Let’s just say Volker didn’t find that amusing. He got himself jammed up — it looked to me, anyway — by trying to figure out how to get Trump to hand over the $390 million in critical military aid to Ukraine despite Rudy Giuliani’s persistent well poisoning.
Maybe I’m giving Volker too much credit here. He had to amend one piece of his original statement and then had to make a tortuous case to the committee that he had somehow failed to understand, despite several hundred clues obvious to everyone else, that when Giuliani said to investigate Burisma — the shady natural gas company that had hired Hunter Biden — what he meant was to investigate Joe Biden. Volker said he should have realized what was up — uh, yeah — and that Trump was asking Ukraine to investigate what he called “conspiracies.” And he added that he knew Joe Biden and knew that Biden had done nothing wrong. Yeah, that’s a Republican-requested witness.
But the treatment Vindman received was something different. He faced insinuations that he had leaked the Ukraine call to the press, that he had accessed computers without permission, that he lacked judgment, that he had ignored chain of command, that — get this — he was flaunting his uniform by not wearing a normal suit to the hearing.
The best moment of all — and we may see some version of this on Saturday Night Live — came when GOP counsel Steve Castor grilled Vindman on being offered the job of Ukrainian defense minister by Oleksandr Danylyuk, Ukraine’s former chairman of the National Security and Defense Council. The insinuation, of course, was that Ukrainian-born Vindman had dual loyalties or worse. The offer, which Vindman reported to his superiors, was a joke, of course, as the Danylyuk later told The Daily Beast. But not before Vindman was asked whether the conversation was — gasp — in Ukrainian, as if it would be disloyal for the Ukrainian expert born in Ukraine (which he left at age 3) to be able to speak the language. Turns out they spoke in English, but, hey, you can be a traitor in any language, right?
Vindman knew what was coming. That’s his job, isn’t it, to be an analyst? And if there were any question, he just had to read the contemptible open letter from Sen. Ron Johnson, who warned the House committee that Vindman fit the profile — whatever that looks like — of a deep-stater out to get the president.
In his opening statement, Vindman spoke of the “vile” attacks on him and his colleagues who had the “courage” to testify before the committee. He spoke of his father’s “brave act of hope 40 years ago” leaving the Soviet Union. Vindman grew up in Brooklyn, in Little Odessa, and joined the Army, as his two brothers did — one of whom, his twin, also serves in the White House. As Steve Colbert said, his story couldn’t be any more American unless he had been in a Ken Burns video on the Statue of Liberty — which he had.
Vindman ended his statement by addressing his father, reassuring him about his choices, all those years ago.
“Dad,” he said, “My sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
It was an old time paean to truth, justice and the American way. Spoken in the halls of a broken Congress. In the days of Trump’s cascade of lies. How much more cynical can you get?