Pundits Decry 'Smear Campaign' Against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman as Trump Allies Attempt to Undermine Witness

Some conservative media figures drew quick backlash from analysts and politicians from both parties after focusing on the Ukrainian heritage of the first White House official to testify in impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who fled Ukraine at age 3, testified Tuesday about the now-famous July 25 call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"I was concerned by the call. 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," Vindman, who heard the call, said in his statement, according to a written record of his opening remarks released on Monday evening.

But even before he testified, some conservative pundits had taken aim at the heritage of the former Army infantry officer, who received a Purple Heart while serving in Iraq.

Noting Vindman's emigration from Ukraine, Fox News host Laura Ingraham said Monday night "we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine, while working inside the White House, apparently against the president's interest, and usually, they spoke in English. Isn't that kind of an interesting angle on this story?"

John Yoo, the former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, responded by saying "I find that astounding. Some people might call that espionage."

The focus on Vindman's heritage continued ahead of his testimony on Tuesday.

"It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don't know that he's concerned about American policy," Sean Duffy, a former Republican Wisconsin congressman who was recently hired by CNN, said during an appearance on the television network. "We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from...he has an affinity for the Ukraine."

Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade said on Tuesday morning that Vindman "tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine."

The attempt to focus on Vindman's Ukrainian roots drew quick backlash from figures across the political aisle.

"We're talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation ... It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation," Republican Representative Liz Cheney said on Tuesday.

Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist who has been critical of the Republican Party's shift under Trump, took issue with Yoo's comments. "John Yoo slandered an American hero," she wrote, urging Berkeley Law School, where Yoo teaches, to condemn his comments.

Though the questioning of Vindman's loyalty drew quick backlash, senior fellow at Media Matters Matt Gertz saw the strategy as a continuation of earlier attempts to undermine those who cast Trump in a negative light.

"This has been a trend since the very early days of the trump administration," Gertz told Newsweek. "If you look at the treatment that...conservative media has given to people like James Comey or various figures who were at FBI or DOJ at the early stages of the Russia investigation," there was a "very clear effort to undermine and smear as many as possible," he continued.

"When we think about the smears of Lt. Col Vindman in particular, I think there's a heightened level of this. We see the attacks on people who have served their country in wartime as well as in peacetime, becoming more and more feverish. I don't know that this is necessarily something that we should be shocked by."

Vindman
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, arrives at the U.S. Capitol on October 29 in Washington. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Pundits Decry 'Smear Campaign' Against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman as Trump Allies Attempt to Undermine Witness | News