Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman had already recounted his unease at President Donald Trump’s approach to Ukraine and his actions to report it when his employer – the White House – attacked him on Twitter.
“Tim Morrison, Alexander Vindman’s former boss, testified in his deposition that he had concerns about Vindman’s judgment,” the tweet read.
It was a remarkable broadside from the official voice of the executive branch against the President’s own top Ukraine expert, a decorated Iraq War veteran who testified in a public impeachment hearing on Tuesday.
And it continued a pattern, begun by Trump, of lashing out against impeachment witnesses even as they continue to work for him and as Democrats warn against witness intimidation.
The tweet from the official White House account, funded by taxpayer dollars, quoted closed-door testimony from Morrison, Vindman’s former superior, who raised concerns about the lieutenant colonel’s judgment. It included a specially made graphic using a quote from the interview, which read: “I had concerns about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman’s judgment.”
Like a tweet Trump sent Friday insulting ousted US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch during her public hearing, the message was quickly raised by Democrats in their questioning.
They also raised a tweet Trump sent over the weekend directed at Tuesday morning’s other witness, a State Department official working as a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.
All three of those individuals still work for the administration, even if the White House’s official channels suggest they are not welcome anymore. Trump’s evident irritation at the career national security professionals further opens a rift between him and his close aides and those who populate the sprawling federal government.
Some officials inside the White House have suggested moving Vindman from his post at the National Security Council back to the Pentagon, his home agency. But there have been concerns that moving or firing officials who are testifying in the impeachment probe could be seen as retribution.
Republicans have been particularly cautious in how they approach Vindman because he is a Purple Heart recipient whose parents brought him to the United States at a young age from the Soviet Union. Before the hearings began, Trump’s allies cautioned him against unleashing on Vindman, wary of the optics of attacking a uniformed officer.
The White House Twitter account appeared to have no such qualms, even though later in the day Trump was relatively reserved in his assessment of Vindman during a Cabinet meeting.
“I watched him for a little while this morning and I think he – I’m going to let people make their own determination,” he said.
Like some Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, Trump noted that Vindman wore his Army dress uniform for the hearing. And he commented on Vindman’s correction of a questioner during the hearing who addressed him as “Mister” rather than “Lieutenant Colonel.”
Both seemed designed to tacitly suggest that Vindman was inflating his self-importance or seeking to exploit his military record. But a US Army spokesperson said later “a Soldier performing duties in an official capacity will normally be in uniform.”
And Vindman seemed prepared to rebut questions about his work history, wielding his own performance reviews that described him as “brilliant, unflappable, and exercises excellent judgment.”
Almost eight hours later, as the day’s hearings concluded, the tweet reemerged during a second hearing.
Asked whether it was appropriate to criticize Vindman on Twitter as he was testifying, the former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker said it wasn’t.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said.