Moving Beyond Punishment

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noticed that sometime was wrong many months ago:

Senator John McCain of Arizona has been dead for seven months, but President Trump’s feud with him is very much alive, and in front of a military audience at a tank plant here in Lima, Ohio, on Wednesday, he took it to a new level.

He said he gave Mr. McCain “the funeral he wanted, and I didn’t get ‘thank you,'” exaggerating the role he played in honoring the senator’s death four days before his 82nd birthday.

He blamed him for “a war in the Middle East that McCain pushed so hard.” He said that “McCain didn’t get the job done for our great vets” and the Department of Veterans Affairs. And he was blunt in saying that his animosity toward Mr. McCain was not going to change.

“I have to be honest: I’ve never liked him much,” Mr. Trump said, about ten minutes into a freewheeling speech that was ostensibly about the resurgence of manufacturing jobs.

Trump won’t let go of a perceived slight, even here:

His relentless fixation on Mr. McCain was more reminiscent of an election-year feud Mr. Trump escalated against a Gold Star father, Khizr Khan, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and, brandishing a pocket Constitution, challenged Mr. Trump for smearing the character of Muslims. Republicans once again denounced Mr. Trump when he continued to attack Mr. Khan and his wife, who Mr. Trump implied was forced against her will to stand silently by her husband’s side during the emotional speech.

Nothing came of that. They can denounce Trump all they want. His base loves this. McCain was never a hero. Donald Trump was, and is. Khizr Khan and his wife may have lost a son, who died in combat defending this nation, but Donald Trump sacrificed far more, somehow or other. And now there’s this:

Prominent right-wing media commentators have sought for weeks to cast aspersions on the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, echoing the president’s repeated cries of “witch hunt!” and framing the investigation as motivated by political bias.

Now some of those commentators have opened a new front: questioning the patriotism of Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the White House national security official and decorated Iraq war veteran who was testifying on Tuesday that he had heard Mr. Trump ask Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rival.

One pundit on Fox News went as far as to suggest that Colonel Vindman had engaged in “espionage” against the United States, prompting an unusual rebuke from a Republican member of Congress.

These Republicans have a lot to work out:

Colonel Vindman, who received a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Iraq, is a Ukrainian-American immigrant who was 3 years old when his family fled to the United States. On her Fox News program on Monday, the conservative host Laura Ingraham sought to turn his ethnic background against him, noting that Ukrainian officials had recently sought the colonel’s advice about interacting with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“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,” Ms. Ingraham said. “Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?”

Her guest, John Yoo, a former top lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, agreed. “I find that astounding,” Mr. Yoo said. “Some people might call that espionage.”

Yes, Vindman is a double agent, secretly a Ukrainian spy out to ruin the West, or maybe not:

The accusation by Mr. Yoo was decried by left-leaning pundits and, on Tuesday, by Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Republican lawmaker. “It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this country,” Ms. Cheney said, calling on critics to stop questioning the colonel’s loyalties.

No one listens to her:

On Tuesday, the president repeatedly described Colonel Vindman as a “Never Trumper” in a series of posts on Twitter. Mr. Giuliani chimed in, too, writing in a tweet that the colonel “has reportedly been advising two gov’s.” He added: “No wonder he is confused and feels pressure.”

No, he’s not confused, but someone else seems to be confused, on purpose:

Colonel Vindman, 44, grew up in Brooklyn, completed basic training in 1999, and carried out numerous overseas tours in the Army, including in South Korea, Germany and Iraq. In 2003, he was wounded by a roadside bomb and received a Purple Heart. He has served in multiple United States embassies and joined the National Security Council in 2018.

But online, the conspiracy theory about Mr. Vindman as a foreign agent has begun to spread.

On Tuesday morning, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, a close Trump ally, tweeted: “Donald Trump is innocent. The deep state is guilty.” An account tied to QAnon, the fringe online conspiracy movement, amplified his claim to 160,000 followers on Twitter, and the conspiracy claim was likewise posted to a Facebook QAnon page within the hour.

And then there’s this:

Jack Posobiec, a well-known figure on the far-right internet, tweeted the falsehood that Mr. Vindman had been advising the Ukrainian government on how to counter Mr. Trump’s foreign policy goals. Mr. Posobiec cited The New York Times as his source. In fact, The Times reported no such thing.

Nevertheless, his tweet was repeated verbatim at least 50 times by over 25 accounts in the same hour…

And then the actual Republicans, not Donald Trump and Fox News, finally fought back:

Several top Republicans on Tuesday made emphatic statements in support of Vindman, a National Security Council official who heard Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president and testified that it was improper for Trump to demand an investigation into Joe Biden and represented a threat to U.S. national security.

“That guy’s a Purple Heart. I think it would be a mistake to attack his credibility,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said in an interview. “You can obviously take issue with the substance and there are different interpretations about all that stuff. But I wouldn’t go after him personally. He’s a patriot.”

“I’m not going to question the patriotism of any of the people who come forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), though he declined to comment “on the merit of what’s going forward” or Vindman’s suggestion that he was concerned Trump’s actions had undermined national security…

“This is the career military officer with a Purple Heart? I’m sure he’s doing his best to serve his country,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 4 GOP leader. “Somebody can have a wrong sense of where they think the path goes but that doesn’t mean that they’re wrongly motivated… Criticizing this guy? No. I wouldn’t be on board.”

Calling out a decorated Purple Heart career military officer as a traitor seemed to them to be a bad call. Don’t do it, but it had to be done, but then it didn’t:

On Monday night, former George W. Bush administration official John Yoo said Vindman may have participated in “espionage” after Fox News’ Laura Ingraham suggested that Vindman was “advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interest.” Yoo later released a statement saying his critics were “deliberately” twisting his words and that he wasn’t accusing Vindman of being “some kind of double agent.”

But by then it was too late:

Asked about joining the attacks, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said “I’m not going to do it and I would encourage others not to.”

Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) also said they had no reason to question the character of Vindman, while Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), one of the president’s closest allies, said he would not comment on the matter.

This got far too hot far too quickly, as the Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa reports here:

While Trump has pushed for GOP lawmakers to “get tougher and fight,” he has embraced scorched-earth rhetoric that some in his party have struggled to defend. Over the past month, Trump has compared impeachment to a “lynching,” described his GOP critics as “human scum,” called for the unmasking of a federally protected whistleblower and accused administration officials testifying against him of being unpatriotic, or worse.

As his attacks have escalated, the Republican response has been disjointed, with loyalists embracing offensive terms such as “lynching” and others distancing themselves from the harsh language and tactics.

On Tuesday, Trump’s campaign to brand his opponents as part of a “Deep State” cabal of government officials working against him ran headlong into the biography of Vindman, who fled the Soviet Union with his family as a child and who received a Purple Heart after being injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Republicans would rather not argue about any of this:

While many opted against taking that approach against a decorated veteran, Republicans continue to struggle with defending Trump on the substance of the allegations he faces, said Brendan Buck, who served as counselor to former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

“The ultimate problem is the substance is completely indefensible,” he said. “Members can’t stomach arguing the merits so you get attacks on credibility and the process.”

And now it’s just more of the same. But the odd things is that they’re trying to help the man who sneers at the concept of “help” itself and seems to get hammered by the “heroes” of the nation:

Defending Trump on the allegations has become increasingly difficult as several members of Trump’s administration have effectively testified against him.

Vindman’s testimony echoed the opening statement delivered last week by William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Taylor, a Vietnam War veteran and career diplomat, told lawmakers he was alarmed by the White House push for an improper quid pro quo shortly after the Trump administration tapped him to be the top liaison to the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.

Like Vindman, Taylor used his opening statement to stress his bipartisan background and his decades of public service.

And this time it was another revelation:

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that the White House transcript of a July call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president omitted crucial words and phrases, and that his attempts to include them failed, according to three people familiar with the testimony.

But that was his job. He was the NSC Ukraine expert, and he was fluent in Ukrainian and Russian. He was supposed to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks. And they would not let him correct the record:

The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.

Colonel Vindman, who appeared on Capitol Hill wearing his dark blue Army dress uniform and military medals, told House impeachment investigators that he tried to change the reconstructed transcript made by the White House staff to reflect the omissions. But while some of his edits appeared to have been successful, he said, those two corrections were not made.

Colonel Vindman did not testify to a motive behind the White House editing process.

And that was a problem:

His testimony is likely to drive investigators to ask further questions about how officials handled the call, including changes to the transcript and the decision to put it into the White House’s most classified computer system – and whether those moves were meant to conceal the conversation’s most controversial aspects.

There will be more questions, but he was just doing his job:

In hours of questioning on Tuesday by Democrats and Republicans, Colonel Vindman recounted his alarm at the July 25 call, saying he “did not think it was proper” for Mr. Trump to have asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate a political rival, and how White House officials struggled to deal with the fallout from a conversation he and others considered problematic.

That’s simple enough, but this isn’t over:

His testimony about the reconstructed transcript, the aftermath of the call and a shadow foreign policy being run outside the National Security Council came as Democrats unveiled plans for a more public phase of the impeachment process. They plan to vote on Thursday to direct the Intelligence Committee to conduct public hearings and produce a report for the Judiciary Committee to guide its consideration of impeachment articles. The measure will also provide a mechanism for Republicans to request subpoenas for witnesses and give Mr. Trump’s lawyers a substantive role in the Judiciary Committee’s proceedings to mount a defense.

Some lawmakers indicated Colonel Vindman would make a good candidate to appear again at a public hearing next month.

That should be interesting:

Colonel Vindman told House investigators Tuesday that he twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were pressuring Ukraine to undertake inquiries beneficial to the president, including of Mr. Biden. After the July 25 call, the colonel reported what happened to a superior, explaining that “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,” according to his opening remarks. He added, “This would all undermine U.S. national security.”

He also described confronting Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, after the envoy pressed Ukrainian officials to help the Trump administration by investigating the Biden family. The colonel said he acted out of a “sense of duty,” and emphasized his military service in his remarks. “I am a patriot,” he said, “and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.”

This man will be a problem:

A top National Security Council official on Tuesday delivered a firsthand account of President Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, putting congressional Republicans in a bind and emboldening Democrats as they moved toward their first impeachment vote Thursday…

Trump’s attack on the Purple Heart recipient unnerved Republicans in Congress, with several pushing back, albeit without naming the president. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the offensive “misplaced and very unfortunate,” and said he had “full confidence” in Vindman “as an individual and his patriotism.”

The response from Trump’s party created an unusual dynamic in which Republicans were defending a man who was simultaneously accusing the president of undermining national security for his own political purposes. Privately, several Republicans found Vindman’s testimony to be damaging and lamented that once again they were forced to defend the president.

But that is what they have to do:

Vindman’s account of the phone call deprives Republicans of the complaint that the witnesses called by Democrats have relied on hearsay when discussing the president’s interactions with Zelensky. And as Democrats moved to vote on a resolution to hold open hearings on impeachment, Republicans faced the prospect of losing their complaint that the inquiry is being conducted in secret.

The resolution, set to come before the full House on Thursday, would empower Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to take the lead on public hearings.

That was a miscalculation and now they face this:

Republicans have raised questions about Trump’s right to be personally represented by attorneys during the impeachment proceedings, noting that Clinton had lawyers present during the House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of articles of impeachment in 1998. The committee on Tuesday issued a three-page summary of procedural safeguards for the president. They include the right of the president or his counsel to recommend additional testimony or evidence for the committee’s review and to question any witnesses who testify, among other provisions.

Several Democrats said they believed the vote would undermine Republicans, who for weeks have raised objections to the process Democrats have undertaken and have called for a formal vote on launching impeachment proceedings.

“The message this week is going to be: You asked for it, you got it,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.).

But no one asked for this:

Democrats and Republicans got into a shouting match behind closed doors on Tuesday while interviewing a witness in the impeachment investigation, with Democrats accusing Republicans of trying to out the anonymous whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry, according to five sources from both parties.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff objected to a line of questioning from Republicans during the deposition of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council official in charge of Ukraine policy, charging that the GOP questions were part of an effort to out the whistleblower, sources said.

Republicans pushed back, arguing they were simply asking questions about who Vindman might have spoken with — and that it was not an effort to “out” the whistleblower.

The back-and-forth led to a heated exchange between Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, according to multiple sources. Other members joined in.

Lawmakers said Vindman testified he did not know who the whistleblower was.

They all shouted at each other anyway:

Tensions over the whistleblower’s identity have been building in the depositions. Two sources described a pattern of GOP questioning – over the course of several of the depositions – that appeared designed to try to identify the whistleblower through the course of asking witnesses and putting into the deposition record the names of various government officials involved that may fit the professional description that has been made public of the individual.

While the sources said they didn’t get the sense Republicans on the panel had identified the whistleblower directly, “it’s clear they’ve been using these depositions as a way to gather evidence to that effect,” one of the sources said.

Why? No one knows. Everything the whistleblower claimed has been substantiated by multiple players in this mess, so all that’s left is punishment:

Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera stated he’d like to beat up the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint helped kick-start an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

“This is gonna be what the impeachment is all about, maybe one or two little other things fall in,” Rivera said. “So it’s going to be the president of the United States in a conversation that was intercepted by a rotten snitch, I’d love to wap him, but that’s another story.”

“Wap” is a somewhat-archaic term meaning to beat or strike. Rivera’s comment echoes Trump saying earlier that the whistleblower should be punished for “treason.”

But this has to be done:

Rivera also lamented the treatment of Trump, complaining the “poor president” was beset by “snitches and rats.”

“Imagine this poor president, his whole tenure in office has been marked by snitches, and rats, and backstabbers, and it’s amazing how he functions at all,” he said.

That is amazing, but not for the reason Geraldo Rivera thinks. The real heroes are showing how things really work, and that has nothing to do with punishing anyone. This is about moving forward in a complicated world.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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