At least the day didn't begin with Devin Nunes talking about "nude pics of Trump," like the previous two impeachment hearings did. Maybe he forgot. Maybe he was consumed with thinking about how he was going to try to get one of today's witnesses to out the whistleblower.
In addition to Nunes's opening statement, House Chair Adam Schiff gave an opening statement (when he meant to say "work with Rudy" he accidentally said "work with Judy"), followed by an opening statement from Jennifer Williams in the vice president's office, followed by an opening statement by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council. Both Williams and Vindman were on the infamous phone call between Trump and Ukraine's president; they were first-hand witnesses.
Lt. Col. Vindman, who was a 3-year-old Jewish boy fleeing Ukraine with his family when they arrived in the United States, and who has shrapnel in his body from a roadside bomb in Iraq where he was serving as an infantry officer in the United States Army, looked nervous, his hands shaking. He pointed out that if he lived in a place like Russia, he would be murdered for testifying in a hearing like this.
Just about the entire country teared up when he was talking—well, the half of the country that lives in the same reality I do teared up—when he got to the end of his opening statement:
Next month will mark 40 years since my family arrived in the United States as refugees. When my father was 47 years old he left behind his entire life and the only home he had ever known to start over in the United States so that his three sons could have better, safer lives. His courageous decision inspired a deep sense of gratitude in my brothers and myself and instilled in us a sense of duty and service. All three of us have served or are currently serving in the [US] military. Our collective military service is a special part of our family’s story in America.
I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this Committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life. I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.
Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.
Will he though?
That was the question on everyone's mind, especially because he's already been attacked on Fox News (here's video of Laura Ingraham wondering if he's a double agent working for Ukraine). Plus, there is new reporting today that after attacks from President Trump and his henchmen in Congress, the "Army is ready to relocate Lt. Col Alex Vindman and his family to an Army base to protect him."
It didn't take long for attacks on Vindman to materialize in the House Intelligence chamber. They were carried out by the usual buffoons—Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. Brad Wenstrup, and others—and they included further insinuations that Lt. Col. Vindman was more aligned with Ukraine than the US (someone mentioned Vindman being offered a job in Ukraine's foreign ministry, which Vindman says he had no interest in). Also, apoplexy that Vindman had reported the infamous phone call to NSC lawyers (which is the correct thing to do), given that no one else (including Jennifer Williams) reported it to the lawyers.
But it was Rep. Nunes who took the first crack at Lt. Col. Vindman, and it was Nunes's line of questioning that will be remembered most vividly, because it devolved into an attempt to out the whistleblower, which is against the law. Specifically, Nunes asked for the identities of anyone Vindman had discussed the infamous phone call with. Vindman said that one of them was George Kent, who testified last week. And the other person Vindman talked to about the call? He would not say—resulting in some fireworks in the chamber.
The disdain on both sides of this questioning is palpable.
It begins with Lt. Col. Vindman asking to be called by his military title (when Nunes calls him "mister," Vindman replies: "Mr. Ranking Member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please"). When Lt. Col. Vindman says he is not going to discuss the identity of that one member of the intelligence community, Nunes snaps back, "Are you aware that this is the Intelligence Committee that's conducting the impeachment hearing?" ("Of course I am," Vindman responds.) When Nunes pushes harder and tells him he can invoke the 5th Amendment (which is what you invoke if you've broken the law and don't want to incriminate yourself), Vindman's lawyer has to step in and go, basically, "Whoa, whoa, the 5th Amendment? Are you nuts?" (Spoiler: yes, Nunes is nuts.)
Some real-time reactions:
So Vindman's testimony began with him reassuring his father that in this country you won't be punished for telling the truth, and continued with Devin Nunes trying to elicit information from him that might expose a protected whistleblower.
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) November 19, 2019
Nunes conducting a leak investigation on live TV is giving these witnesses added credibility-something they don’t need, but I guess stupidity doesn’t stop someone like Nunes from helping people he’s intent on hurting.
— Nicolle Wallace (@NicolleDWallace) November 19, 2019
This is like if the Breitbart commenters were allowed to ask questions.
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) November 19, 2019
Devin Nunes's line of questioning is a clear demonstration of how the two parties exist in two parallel realities, and that Nunes is insisting on his own reality with a clear eye to creating clips for FoxNews's roundup of the #ImpeachmentHearings.
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) November 19, 2019
“Ranking Member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Go Fuck Yourself”
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) November 19, 2019