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No Trump thanks for service of Army men turned impeachment witnesses

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, National Security Council director for European affairs, arrives Tuesday for a closed-door deposition in the House impeachment inquiry. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/Mandel Ngan

Not the military parade he wanted

President Donald Trump professes his love for the U.S. military as "the greatest people on Earth," but lately he's having trouble recognizing some of them. "Why are people that I never even heard of testifying about the call," he tweeted angrily.

The person in question is Alexander Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, survived a shrapnel wound from an IED and now serves on the White House National Security Council. He was among those who listened in on Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He told the House committees in the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday that he was alarmed by what he heard Trump say.

"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 said in his prepared testimony. He raised those concerns with the NSC's counsel, he said.

As early as spring, Vindman said, he had become aware of "outside influencers" — a reference to the shadow group that included Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — who were promoting what he called a "false narrative of Ukraine" that undermined U.S. efforts to strengthen that country as it faced Russian aggression.

The president tweeted, without any basis, that the career Army officer is a "Never Trumper." It's the same epithet he hurled at a previous witness, William Taylor, a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran and the current top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. Taylor, like Vindman, described a quid pro quo scheme that linked aid and Zelensky's request for a White House meeting with demands that the Ukrainian leader conspicuously order investigations aimed at Trump political enemies such as Joe Biden.

Vindman also described a confrontation with Gordon Sondland, the Republican megadonor who Trump named ambassador to the EU and enlisted to push his Ukraine investigation demands. The lieutenant colonel said he and his then-boss, former NSC senior Russia director Fiona Hill, accused Sondland of making "inappropriate" remarks to visiting Ukrainian officials that seemed to condition a potential White House visit for Zelensky on a promise to open Trump's desired investigations.

Vindman said Sondland "emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma" — the energy company that employed Hunter Biden. Vindman also said he chided Sondland that "the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push."

Not a perfect transcript

Vindman testified that the rough transcript of the Ukraine call released by the White House omitted references to Burisma and additional mentions of Biden, and he tried unsuccessfully to have them all restored, The New York Times reported.

Is he American enough?

Vindman, 44, grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. He was part of ROTC while attending Binghamton University. He's served in the Army for 20 years. His twin brother, Yevgeny, also is an Army lieutenant colonel and is serving as a lawyer with the NSC.

“I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics,” Alexander Vindman wrote in his opening statement.

The Vindman twins were brought to the U.S. at age 3. The family, which is Jewish, emigrated from Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. Alexander Vindman speaks Ukrainian and Russian fluently. And that was enough to trigger attacks on his loyalty from pro-Trump commentators. “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy,” said former Rep. Sean Duffy, who left Congress a month ago and appears on CNN. 

Based on New York Times reporting that Ukrainian officials sought him out for advice after Giuliani began pressuring them, Fox commentator Laura Ingraham suggested that Vindman was “advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interest." (That's what Democrats and other critics contend was contrary to the national interest.) Former George W. Bush administration official John Yoo chimed in: “Some people might call that espionage.”

Senior Republicans on Capitol Hill slapped down that kind of talk. “It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this country,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the House GOP leadership, said of decorated veterans like Vindman. “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,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Impeachment inquiry going public

House Democrats released on Tuesday details of the resolution laying out their procedures as they move forward with the next phase of the impeachment inquiry. A vote is expected Thursday.

It calls for public hearings and specifically permits staff counsels — both Democratic and Republican — to question witnesses for periods of up to 45 minutes per side.

The measure also would allow the president or his counsel to participate in impeachment proceedings held by the House Judiciary Committee, which has the authority to advance articles of impeachment against the president. But if the president "refuses to cooperate" unlawfully with congressional requests, the resolution says, the chairman, Jerry Nadler, could turn down "specific requests by the president or his counsel."

House Republicans argued that the impeachment process was fatally flawed from the beginning and the new procedures won't legitimize it.

A USA Today/Suffolk University Poll finds Americans split 46%-47% over whether he should be removed from office, but a 66%-26% majority say the White House had an obligation to comply with subpoenas from the House committees demanding testimony and documents.

Janison: What's the excuse now? 

Trump last year warned a veterans group: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening." In that spirit, Trumpworld on social media is still trying to explain the sustained booing and chants of "Lock him up!" that greeted the president at World Series Game 5 in Washington on Sunday night.

First, writes Newsday's Dan Janison, it was a mix of boos and cheers. But the soundtrack showed the boos winning out, so the spin moved to attacking the crowd as "a crowd of rich, liberal elitists."

“I’ll take boos from the leftist DC fan base and cheers from the great men and women of the United States Armed Forces any day of the week!” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. He posted a recirculated video of the president surrounded by military officers on the field before an Army-Navy college football game. There wasn't so much cheering from U.S. troops ordered by Trump to abandon their Kurdish allies in Syria more recently.

Next ISIS boss a short-termer?

Trump tweeted Tuesday that "American troops" have "terminated" the dead ISIS leader's "likely" replacement.

"Just confirmed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's number one replacement has been terminated by American troops. Most likely would have taken the top spot — Now he is also Dead!" Trump tweeted.

CNN reported it was told by a U.S. official that "the President was referring to ISIS representative Abu Hasan al-Muhajir." The Pentagon said it had no further information beyond Trump's tweet.

Biden fade in New Hampshire

A CNN/University of New Hampshire poll puts Biden in third place in the Granite State at 15%, a steep 9-point drop since its last poll in July.

Bernie Sanders was first with 21% and Elizabeth Warren close behind at 18%. Pete Buttigieg, with 10%, rounded out the top four who reached double-digits.

Still, with 105 days to go until the primary, only 23% of likely Democratic primary voters say they have definitely decided who to support, CNN said.

What else is happening:

  • In a bipartisan rebuke of Trump, the House voted 403-16 to sanction Turkey over its offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish forces. “Rather than hold Turkey accountable for how they’ve conducted this bloody campaign, President Trump has given them a free pass,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said.
  • Trump's first homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, told ABC News that the "broken" trust between Trump and career government officials could impact the president's "ability to govern." Leaks make Trump "understandably paranoid," but he's wrong to make decisions without advice and clueing in those who have to implement them, Bossert said.
  • George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign aide who pleaded guilty in the Mueller investigation, told Los Angeles magazine he may run as a Republican for the House seat of Democrat Katie Hill, who resigned amid a House Ethics Committee investigation and allegations of sexual relationships with staffers. "I’m smelling blood in the water," he tweeted.
  • Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who suffered repeated verbal and Twitter beatdowns from Trump, is nearing a decision on whether to run for his old Alabama Senate seat, Axios reports. If he does, renewed Trump attacks are expected.
  • Mark Zaid, a lawyer for the Trump Ukraine call whistleblower, grew up on Long Island as the son of a car dealer, according to an NBC News profile. While some accuse him of liberal bias, his past clients include the Republican National Committee, which retained him to try to get Hillary Clinton's emails and five CIA whistleblowers in the GOP's Benghazi investigation.
  • Since the start of the 2016 campaign, Trump campaign-affiliated committees have funneled about $16.8 million to Trump-owned businesses, according to opensecrets.org.
  • Long-shot Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard, speaking from lower Manhattan, demanded that secret documents that could tie Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 terrorist attacks should be declassified and released, Newsday's Matthew Chayes writes. This echoes a demand Trump made before he was president — for which there was no follow-up.

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