The Memo: After Vindman, GOP anxiety deepens

Republican concerns are mounting about President Trump as damaging information piles up regarding his dealings with Ukraine.

The dam is not yet at the bursting point, but anxiety — fueled by the sense that more revelations could emerge at any moment — is rippling through the GOP.

“It’s fair to say my conversations with members continue to go to a worse place,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee. 

{mosads}Heye added that, for the moment, there was a sizable gap between “private consternation versus public consternation.” 

More discord could burst into public view soon. There are tensions about the White House’s strategy, with the most fervent Trump allies favoring a hard-line approach and others expressing misgivings.

The divide is particularly apparent regarding Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council (NSC) official who delivered damaging testimony about Trump on Tuesday.

The president on Wednesday repeated his criticism of Vindman as a “Never Trumper.” 

Vindman testified that he was so concerned about Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he reported it to an NSC lawyer.

Vindman also said he had contacted the lawyer on an earlier occasion, when U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland raised the issue of possible investigations by Ukraine into the 2016 election and into 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The danger posed by Vindman’s testimony was underscored by the ferocity of the attacks against him by Trump’s media allies — attacks that included unsubstantiated allegations that he had dual loyalty to Ukraine or that he had been working to undermine the president.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, said it was “shameful” to question Vindman’s patriotism and that “we need to show that we are better than that as a nation.”

Some GOP senators, including John Thune (S.D.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.), also distanced themselves from those attacks.

Among the ranks of Republicans who are critical of Trump, the outrage at the tone of the attacks on Vindman was even clearer.

Rick Tyler, who was Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) communications director during the 2016 presidential campaign, noted Vindman’s history as a military officer who was awarded a Purple Heart medal after being injured by an improvised explosive device during the Iraq War.

“You’re going to attack this guy, sight unseen, in order to protect the president?” Tyler said in bafflement. “You’d have to have your head examined!”

Tyler also asserted that most Republicans are not buying the president’s repeated assertions that there was nothing wrong with his call with Zelensky.

“The president seems to be sanctioning it and saying it is all fair game, it is all part of the process,” Tyler said. “But it’s not. It’s a very dangerous game. And most Republicans do understand that.”

Even so, there are not many signs yet of any large-scale desertion of the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday accused House Democrats of setting “a new low” in the impeachment inquiry and said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had “initiated a bizarre process.”

Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who is also a columnist for The Hill, said that Republicans acknowledge there is “a legitimate concern” about the president’s dealings with Ukraine but added that it did not yet rise to the level of a “smoking gun.”

Gregg also said that there was considerable anger at the way Democrats had handled the process, accusing them of running a “kangaroo court.” 

He said that, among the GOP, this created some sympathy for Trump — “which is hard to do, because he is not a sympathetic figure.”

Michael Caputo, a long-standing friend of Trump, said that he believed support for the president had strengthened among his base.

But while Caputo offered support for an aggressive strategy from the pro-Trump side — “Lock it down and weather the storm!” he said — he also cautioned that the White House needed to ensure there would be no slippage of support in the Senate, where Trump’s fate could ultimately be decided.

Three Republican senators — Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah) — last week declined to sign a resolution condemning the impeachment process.

“The president and his team should be working the Republican Senate relentlessly,” Caputo said.

Trump faces one problem that he has not been able to surmount so far. 

Many GOP members are reluctant to climb out on a limb for him when they don’t know what is coming next.

On Wednesday, news broke that former national security adviser John Bolton had been invited to give a deposition on Nov. 7. 

NBC News also reported that Vindman, during his testimony, said that aid to Ukraine and a White House visit for Zelensky had been made “contingent” upon Ukraine beginning multiple investigations — exactly the kind of quid pro quo that Trump has repeatedly denied.

Republicans on Capitol Hill “are very mindful of not getting too far ahead of the president on this,” said Heye. 

“They can say something on Monday morning and learn that it is not true on Monday afternoon,” he added.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primary focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.  

Tags Alexander Vindman Donald Trump Impeachment Joe Biden John Bolton John Thune Lisa Murkowski Liz Cheney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi Roy Blunt Susan Collins Ted Cruz

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