As open impeachment hearings begin Wednesday, don’t lose sight of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a patriot, and Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican.
As Jordan is on the rise, newly elevated to the Intelligence Committee for his well-earned reputation as a partisan attack dog, Vindman, the Ukraine expert who actually sat in on the call in which Trump tried to bribe that country’s president into doing his dirty political work in exchange for the release of $400 million in military aid, is in trouble and likely to be relieved of his duties at the NSC as a thank-you for his service.
That’s what the fourth NSC director in three years, rookie Robert O’Brien, blurted out when Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan asked if the top expert on Ukraine would continue in his post. “My understanding is he, hat Colonel Vindman, is detailed from the Department of Defense, so everyone who’s detailed at the NSC, people are going to start going back to their own departments and we’ll bring in new folks,” O'Brien said.
I bet you will. Trump has a long history of ridding himself of people who follow the rule of law rather than his rules. The New York Times reported Tuesday that he discussed firing his appointee, Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General for the intelligence agencies, for declaring the whistle-blower complaint about Ukraine credible and sending it to the Justice Department rather than killing it immediately.
And Trump already announced his intention to attack Vindman as a partisan hack after the wounded combat veteran with a Purple Heart voluntarily came for his deposition two weeks ago dressed in full uniform and was escorted inside by Capitol Police acting as an honor guard. In his opening statement, Vindman testified that he reported his concerns about the call up the chain of command until he ran into a political appointee who told him never to speak of it again and stashed the full transcript in an inaccessible top secret server. When Trump was asked for evidence to back up his claim that Vindman was a Never Trumper who hated him, he said, “We’ll be showing that to you real soon.”
That’s where Jordan comes in. If you can’t fight on the facts, you attack the character of witnesses—which he proved himself a champ at during the Benghazi hearings. Jordan’s uniform is shirtsleeves, to signify working-man cred and that he’ll take the fight outside if you don’t shut up and let him talk. He was part of the unruly group of Trumpist wingnuts who, before the open hearings began, stormed a basement Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, sending videos from the facility where no phones or recording devices are allowed, to falsely complain that Republicans had been kept out when a couple dozen, including Jordan, drawn from various other committees, were actually sitting on the combined committee. He paid no price for the subterfuge. Now, he is on the official impeachment committee in the latest reminder that no bad deed goes unpunished in Trumpland.
Jordan is the kind of person even his erstwhile allies don’t like. In a Politico article in 2017, the retired former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said that Jordan “ is an idiot. I can’t tell you what makes him tick," adding for good measure that he’s also “an asshole” as he decried what was happening to his party. In 2018, Jordan campaigned to be House Minority Leader, but lost his bid to California Republican Kevin McCarthy 159–43, the 43 mostly from other firebrands in the Freedom Caucus. That was better than his showing in the speaker’s race in the 114th Congress, when he got two votes.
All which makes Jordan the perfect person to assail the character of others without shame. His promotion comes just as a new lawsuit revives charges that when he was the assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University from 1987 to 1995, he ignored pleas from his wrestlers to do something about the team physician, Dr. Richard Strauss. Strauss was to OSU wrestlers as Dr. Larry Nassar was to the Michigan State gymnasts, using his position to abuse 177 students according to the university’s investigation released last spring. At least eight wrestlers complained, some asking Jordan to protect them from his “extensive groin examinations” and his over-frequent use of the showers. In the latest suit, the referee says he told Jordan that Strauss had just masturbated in front of him while showering and Jordan responded, “‘Yeah, yeah, sounds like Strauss.” You can hear the towel snapping. Jordan denies all the charges against him—a claim that another wrestler, Mike DiSabato, told the Dayton Daily News is “beyond comprehension” given what he and others have said transpired. Jordan says the complaints all come from athletes who grew up to be political partisans or have a “vendetta” against him.
Now Jordan finds himself working alongside another man of questionable character, summoned to impeach witnesses of unimpeachable character. Vindman is one of the parade of career military and civil servants including acting Ambassador William Taylor, George Kent, Fiona Hill and Laura Cooper who will testify that Trump’s so called “perfect” call diminished our national security and enhanced Russia’s.
Democrats will be susceptible to Jordan’s firefights because there is actually little on the merits to argue over. There’s no whodunit here. Trump did it, from the Oval Office with a phone, thereby admitting everything. By releasing the summary of the call—not the full transcript, mind you, which is undoubtedly worse—it’s almost as if Nixon immediately went out to the South Lawn after the break-in at Democratic headquarters, said he ordered it and released a summary of the tapes showing it.
On Monday, the White House tried to clarify O’Brien’s answer about removing the “bloat” in the White House, knowing how bad it would look to be exiling a decorated veteran like Vindman on Veteran’s Day. But like acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s effort to take it back after proudly declaring on camera that of course there'd been a quid pro quo on Trump’s call, do-overs don’t work. Get over it.
Jordan and his team intend to treat Vindman as if the servant and patriot is a fixer and crook like Michael Cohen, trying to stay out of jail by ratting on the boss. They want to put the motive of the witnesses on trial, instead of the actions of Trump. May the better team win.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated Larry Nassar’s abuse of gymnasts took place at the University of Michigan. We regret the error.