Ron Johnson slams Vindman, says only president can determine foreign policy

    Ron Johnson with his mouth open in a yell
    "Ron Johnson" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    In a letter to House Republicans on Monday, Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson evoked Hillary Clinton’s emails and questioned the loyalty of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

    Johnson, a Republican, addressed the letter to Reps Jim Jordan of Ohio and and Devin Nunes of California, who had requested “any firsthand information … about President Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.”

    Johnson, chairman of the European subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, began by condemning the impeachment inquiry as a politically motivated attack on Donald Trump, and then touched on a series of discredited theories, including “the FBI’s investigation and exoneration of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, combined with Fusion GPS’ solicitation and dissemination of the Steele dossier — and the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation based on that dossier [which] laid the groundwork for future sabotage.”

    “As a result,” He wrote, “my first-hand knowledge and involvement in this saga began with the revelation that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept a private email server.”

    As for Johnson’s specific knowledge of Trump administration policy in Ukraine, he wrote: “I was the only member of Congress joining the executive branch’s inaugural delegation led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Special Envoy Kurt Volker, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, representing the National Security Council,” for the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

    As part of the U.S. delegation that met with Zelensky, Johnson has a strong memory of an incident involving Vindman that he described in the letter:

    “I had just finished making the point that supporting Ukraine was essential because it was ground zero in our geopolitical competition with Russia. I was surprised when Vindman responded to my point. He stated that it was the position of the NSC that our relationship with Ukraine should be kept separate from our geopolitical competition with Russia. My blunt response was, ‘How in the world is that even possible?’ 

    “I do not know if Vindman accurately stated the NSC’s position, whether President Trump shared that viewpoint, or whether Vindman was really just expressing his own view,” Johnson continued. “I raise this point because I believe that a significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their ‘turf.’ They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile.” 

    Johnson’s statement, coming just before Vindman gave public testimony Tuesday in the House impeachment inquiry, gave Trump’s defenders on the House Intelligence Committee ammunition to attack Vindman, whom they tried to portray as having questionable allegiances and failing to respect the “chain of command.”

    Nunes pressured Vindman to reveal a national security source he had spoken with about Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, and suggested that if Vindman didn’t want to reveal the name he might want to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination (Vindman’s lawyer objected that this was unnecessary.)

    Republicans have repeatedly impugned Vindman’s integrity and suggested that, having immigrated to the United States from Ukraine as a toddler, he might be more loyal to his birth country.

    During the hearing, when Nunes referred to him as “Mr. Vindman,” Vindman replied, “Ranking member, it’s Lt. Col Vindman, please.”

    Vindman told the committee that he drafted talking points for Trump ahead of the president’s April phone call with Zelensky, including a section on Ukrainian corruption. “Those were the recommended talking points that were cleared through the NSC staff for the president,” Vindman said. But a White House transcript of the call shows that Trump did not talk to Zelensky about corruption. 

    “Vindman testified that an ‘alternative narrative’ pushed by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was ‘inconsistent with the consensus views of the relevant federal agencies and was ‘undermining the consensus policy,’ Johnson wrote in his letter.

    “Vindman’s [closed-door] testimony, together with other witnesses’ use of similar terms such as ‘our policy,’ ‘stated policy’ and ‘long-standing policy’ lend further credence to the point I’m making” Johnson continued. “Whether you agree with President Trump or not, it should be acknowledged that the Constitution vests the power of conducting foreign policy with the duly elected president. American foreign policy is what the president determines it to be, not what the ‘consensus’ of unelected foreign policy bureaucrats wants it to be.” 

    In his closing statement Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) praised Vindman and condemned the president and his supporters for questioning his loyalty. Schiff decried the “failed effort to bribe Ukraine” by President Trump, by demanding that the country investigate Joe Biden even as U.S. military aid was being held up. 

    That demand, he pointed out, was contrary to U.S. anti-corruption efforts in the country. 

    “My colleagues have tried to make the argument here today that the president was just trying to fight corruption … the evidence all points in the other direction,” Schiff said. “The president was inviting Ukraine to engage in a corrupt action.”

    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. She moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other radio and television programs. In 2011, she did award-winning coverage of the uprising against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Conniff graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal.