Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went to extraordinary lengths Tuesday to avoid giving substantive answers to direct questions about the allegations made by Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the first current White House official to testify in the House impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump’s controversial call with the Ukrainian President that is at the heart of the probe.
McConnell was pressed by a reporter about Vindman’s testimony at his weekly news conference in the Capitol, as several other members of the Senate GOP leadership stood stoically – and silently – behind him.
Notably, the Kentucky Republican’s nonresponses came just a day after Trump had implored congressional Republicans to spend more energy defending his actions on that phone call, which he has described as “perfect,” and not just to complain about the closed-door investigative process by House Democrats.
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“Concerning Col. Vindman’s testimony, what he heard on the President’s call, that conversation with the Ukrainian leader was so concerning that he worried it might undermine US national security. Does it concern you? Are you worried about the President’s behavior at all?” the reporter asked McConnell.
In response, the GOP Senate leader answered a different question, one that was never asked, about charges from some of Trump’s supporters that Vindman might not be patriotic because he was born in Ukraine.
“I’m not gonna question the patriotism of any of the people who are coming forward,” McConnell volunteered.
He then shifted topics to speak about a key impeachment resolution the House is set to vote on Thursday – one that is expected open up the investigative process – something Republicans have pressed for but were still waiting to see the final language of to determine whether they considered it satisfactory.
“The action is in the House now. We’ll see whether they can a) meet the due process standards, fundamental process standards, and then see what they do,” he said.
At that point, McConnell suggested that the real story was whether all House Democrats would vote for their own resolution, as some moderate Democrats up for reelection in districts Trump won haven’t said they will support it.
“I think the vote that they’re now going to have to open up the impeachment inquiry will be very interesting. Will all Democrats vote for it?” he asked.
The reporter tried to steer McConnell back to her question: Was he concerned about the substance of the allegations made by Vindman, who testified that he was so troubled Trump was trying to carry out an inappropriate quid pro quo with the Ukrainian President that he reported it to his superiors.
“What do you make of these allegations?” the reporter pressed.
At that point, McConnell partially addressed her question by saying he wasn’t going to comment on the substance of the allegations.
“I’m not gonna comment on the merits of what’s going forward,” he said.
McConnell then turned his answer back to the House vote, questioning again whether all Democrats would vote for the resolution.
“We’re watching what happens in the House, and we’ll see whether they actually open this impeachment inquiry,” he said. “Apparently they’re going to vote on it later this week. It’s going to be a very interesting vote.”
With that, McConnell turned and walked away from the reporters and, as camera crews clustered around him, headed toward his office.
The other members of leadership quickly slipped away too.