Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s military service was front and center at Tuesday’s impeachment hearing, with Democratic members of Congress trumpeting their witness’ patriotism and Republican lawmakers praising his heroic acts on the battlefield.
But the more ornamental markers of Vindman’s distinguished career in the armed forces, from his official rank to his decision to wear his Army uniform, also featured prominently in the National Security Council staffer’s testimony — occasionally becoming political lighting rods in a contentious televised session.
Addressing the House Intelligence Committee in the same dark dress uniform he donned for his closed-door deposition last month, Vindman often appeared insistent on reminding lawmakers of his status as an active-duty officer.
“Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please,” he corrected Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), after the panel’s top GOP member referred to him with the honorific “Mr.”
A combat veteran of the Iraq War who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in an IED attack, Vindman has nevertheless been subjected in recent weeks to unfounded attacks by some conservative commentators regarding his allegiance to the U.S.
Those insinuations, which were condemned by high-ranking congressional Republicans, made a subtle reprise Tuesday when the Intelligence committee’s GOP counsel pressed Vindman on an offer by Ukraine’s government to become the Eastern European nation’s minister of defense.
Vindman, whose family fled the former Soviet Union when he was a child, said he “immediately dismissed” and “did not entertain” the overtures from Kyiv, telling lawmakers: “I’m an American.”
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) objected to the line of questioning by Republican attorney Steve Castor as a broadside “that may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language,” but was “designed exclusively to give the right-wing media an opening to question your loyalties.”
Himes laced his critique of Castor’s inquiry with a mention of Vindman’s uniform. “It’s what you stoop to when the indefensibility of your case requires that you attack a man who is wearing a Springfield rifle on a field of blue above a Purple Heart,” the congressman said.
It’s standard practice for active-duty military officials to wear their dress garb while testifying on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) also invoked Vindman’s uniform while thanking him for his service, but noted that the government employee attired himself differently for his work at the NSC.
“I see you’re wearing your dress uniform. Knowing that’s not the uniform of the day, that you normally wear a suit to the White House, I think it’s a great reminder of your military service,” he said.
Stewart went on to reference Vindman’s exchange with Nunes, asking: “Do you always insist on civilians calling you by your rank?”
“Mr. Stewart — Rep. Stewart — I’m in uniform wearing my military rank. I just thought it was appropriate to stick with that,” Vindman responded, citing “the attacks that I’ve had in the press and Twitter.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) appeared to slam his Republican colleague for that query later in the hearing, further detailing the various awards adorning Vindman’s coat.
“We even had a member of this committee question, and this is my favorite, question why you would wear your dress uniform today — even though that dress uniform includes a breast plate that has a combat infantryman badge on it and a Purple Heart medal ribbon,” Maloney said.
“It seems like if anybody gets to wear that uniform, it’s somebody who’s got a breastplate with those commendations on it,” he added.
Even President Donald Trump, who purported not to know Vindman during remarks to reporters at the White House ahead of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, made a point to comment on what the impeachment probe witness was wearing.
“I understand somebody had the misfortune of calling him ‘Mr.’ and he corrected them,” the president said. “I never saw the man. I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in.”
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