As we’ve documented closely over the last 12 days of Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine, Republicans are offering up a confusing mix of reactions and deflections in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Some have praised Putin, others have condemned him. But all are mostly mad at President Biden, for a slew of reasons mostly tied to a vague assertion that he’s been weak on foreign policy since taking office.
But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) offered up a rather unique and entirely backwards hypothesis last week when he suggested that somehow those involved in impeaching President Trump the first time might be to blame for the current war in Europe. Of those attracting his ire: retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who was himself born in Kyiv and also became an important whistleblower in the impeachment drama.
While he did condemn Putin in his remarks late last month, RonJohn suggested that those involved in investigating and those who offered crucial testimony during Trump’s first impeachment are actually to blame for putting Ukraine and its Western allies into a “weakened” state. Due to this supposedly weakened standing, Ukraine invited a full-scale military attack from its neighbor, in the senator’s telling.
“I don’t think Vladimir Putin would have moved on Ukraine were it not for the weakness displayed ― certainly by the Biden administration, but by the West in general,” Johnson said in an interview with Fox News on February 27. “I’m certainly hoping that Col. Vindman, Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi ― who used Ukraine as a pawn in their impeachment travesty ― are also recognizing and reflecting about how they weakened Ukraine, weakened the West, weakened America by the divisive politics that they play.”
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published today, Vindman responded to RonJohn’s attacks, claiming the Republican senator and others close to Trump have “blood on their hands” as Russia continues its deadly attack on the nation.
“Civilians are dying, Ukrainians are providing a formidable defense, defending democracy for Americans as well as for themselves and their homes. And Ron Johnson is trying to distract and obfuscate,” Vindman said.
The fire in Vindman’s response is unsurprising: The Ukraine-born former NSC director’s career was derailed after he chose to testify against Trump during the impeachment trial, prompting Trump’s allies to mount a smear campaign against him. But RonJohn’s thinking overall is also entirely divorced from reality.
Trump, of course, dangled weapons shipments and his support for Zelensky’s presidency as bargaining chips in a quid pro quo aimed at helping him win reelection. Vindman essentially functioned as a public-facing whistleblower for the whole ordeal, providing crucial testimony about Trump’s infamous call with Zelensky, in which Trump asked the recently elected president to investigate — or even just announce that he was investigating — Biden’s son in exchange for military aid from the U.S. and an official meeting with the U.S. president.
“I would like you do us a favor, though,” he famously said.
That conflicts wildly — to say the least — with RonJohn’s version of events. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen put it:
It was Trump who tried to withhold military aid for Ukraine. It was Trump who personally forced out a capable U.S. ambassador in Ukraine. It was also Trump who spread baseless propaganda about Ukraine.
And it was Johnson who, when given the opportunity, decided not to hold his party’s president accountable for any of this. The GOP senator also, incidentally, tried to smear Vindman for having told the truth.
The Milwaukee newspaper reached out to RonJohn’s office after speaking to Vindman to see if the Republican senator stands behind his days-old Fox News diatribe. He does.
Vindman et. al “weakened Ukraine by harming its relationship with the U.S. and therefore made Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian aggression, destabilization efforts, and ultimately invasion,” Johnson’s office said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel. “Lt. Col Vindman’s actions demonstrated disloyalty to both the U.S. President he served and the Ukrainian people we were trying to help.”
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