Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, hit out at “cowardly” attacks aimed at him and other witnesses in the impeachment inquiry during his opening statement at Tuesday’s impeachment hearing.
Vindman, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child and has served more than two decades in the Army, was attacked by allies of President Donald Trump on Fox News and other right-wing outlets ahead of his closed-door deposition last month. Personalities like Laura Ingraham questioned Vindman’s loyalty to the country, prompting some Trump-supporting Republicans to condemn the attacks.
During Tuesday’s testimony, Republican counsel Steve Castor appeared to echo the dual loyalty smears as he repeatedly pressed Vindman over his ties to Ukraine.
Vindman used his opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday to hit back at those attacks.
“I want to take a moment to recognize the courage of my colleagues who have appeared and are scheduled to appear before this committee,” he said. “I want to state that the vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible. It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate — this has been our custom since the time of our Founding Fathers — but we are better than callow and cowardly attacks.”
Vindman, who heard Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky firsthand, was targeted after he testified that he reported Trump’s pressure on Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden as a national security concern. He also testified that the partial transcript of the call released by the White House omitted key references to Biden and Burisma, the company whose board included the former vice president’s son.
Vindman reiterated his concerns about the call on Tuesday.
“I was concerned by the call. What I heard was improper, and I reported my concerns to [White House lawyer] Mr. Eisenberg,” Vindman said in his opening statement. “It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent. It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.”
“I privately reported my concerns, in official channels, to the proper authorities in the chain of command,” he added added.
Vindman’s decision to testify prompted attacks from the president himself, who baselessly claimed that Vindman was a “Never Trumper.” CNN reported that Trump has suggested firing aides like Vindman who testified in the impeachment inquiry, warning that such a move would be viewed as retaliation followed.
Vindman’s testimony has also led to death threats. The U.S Army was prepared to move Vindman and his family to a secure location on a nearby military base after Tuesday’s impeachment hearing if they believed he was in danger, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“The Army will make sure he’s safe, and the Army is actively supporting any safety needs as deemed necessary,” an official told the outlet. “It’s hard that he has been catapulted into the public eye. He served his country honorably for 20 years, and you can imagine this is a tough situation for him and his family.”
Vindman also addressed his family’s concerns for his safety in his opening statement. He thanked his father for bringing him four decades earlier to the U.S., where he does not have to worry that “offering public testimony about the president” would “cost me my life.”
“I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety,” he said. “Dad, my sitting here, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty 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,” he added, “I will be fine for telling the truth.”