Rep. Elise Stefanik effectively took Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman back to boot camp during Tuesday’s impeachment inquiry hearing.
Continuing her star turn in the proceedings, Stefanik used most of her five minutes to remind the Iraq war veteran that, just like in the Army, his job in the White House is to serve the commander in chief.
The New York Republican started by slamming “the hysteria and frenzied media coverage” of the inquiry, which centers on Trump’s efforts to extract political help from Ukraine while holding up $391 million in security aid. Stefanik pointed out that whatever Trump’s critics might say, “two key facts have not changed.”
“One, Ukraine in fact received the aide. And two, there was no investigation into the Bidens,” she said.
Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry in September over a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate claims that Joe Biden intervened in Ukraine’s domestic affairs as vice president to benefit his son Hunter Biden. Joe Biden is now Trump’s Democratic rival in the 2020 election.
Vindman, the National Security Council’s director for European affairs, testified to the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday alongside Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence. They had both listened-in on the Trump-Zelensky call and expressed concerns about its inclusion of domestic U.S. politics.
They also said the hold on military aid could damage Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian aggression. Vindman construed Trump’s request as a demand, and said it was “likely to have significant implications” for national security.”
Elise Stefanik versus Alexander Vindman
However, in a series of rapid-fire questions of the witnesses, Stefanik made the case that Trump’s Ukraine policy was well within the bounds of U.S. foreign policy and his own presidential powers.
Over the course of a few minutes, the congresswoman got both Vindman and Williams to agree: Ukraine is corrupt, U.S. aid to the country by law depends on anti-corruption efforts and the president has final say on foreign policy decision-making.
Stefanik also won the witnesses’ admission that Burisma Holdings was corrupt and Hunter Biden’s lucrative role on its board “has the potential for the appearance for a conflict of interest.”
In a final round of questioning, Stefanik seemed to allude to the perception among some conservatives that Vindman — who showed up to the hearing in his Army uniform and medals — lacks humility.
“I respect your deep expertise, your tremendous service to our country,” Stefanik began. “We can never repay those that have worn the military uniform and served our nation.”
However, Stefanik quickly changed tone as she began reading aloud from a braggadocios section of closed-door testimony Vindman gave to lawmakers last month.
“I would say, first of all, I’m the director for Ukraine,” she quoted Vindman as saying. “I’m responsible for Ukraine. I’m the most knowledgable. I’m the authority for Ukraine for the National Security and the White House.”
As Vindman scribbled notes and smirked nervously, Stefanik pressed on.
“I just want a clarification,” she said. “You report to [former top NSC adviser on Russia and Europe] Tim Morrison, correct?”
“Only in my advisory capacity,” Vindman protested. “I advise up through the chain of command. That’s what I do.”
“And the chain of command is Tim Morrison to Ambassador John Bolton, the [former] national security adviser to the president of the United States?” Stefanik pressed. “And do you agree that the president sets the policy as commander in chief as you testified previously?”
“Absolutely,” Vindman said.
“Thank you,” Stefanik concluded. “My time’s expired.”