Former national security aide Alexander Vindman accused Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and others of having "blood on their hands" as Ukraine withstands a withering assault from Russian troops.
In an interview with the Journal Sentinel, Vindman included Johnson on a list with former President Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, claiming they undermined U.S. national security.
"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.
Vindman was responding to comments made Feb. 27 by Johnson on Fox News.
Vindman had been with Johnson on a key trip to Ukraine in May 2019, in which the senator sought to assure the newly elected government of congressional support.
A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, Vindman also blamed Johnson and others for ending his military career.
Vindman was a key witness in the first U.S. House impeachment of Trump. He listened in on the 2019 call when Trump asked Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden while withholding U.S. military aid to the country. Trump later released about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
Last week, in an interview with Fox News, Johnson blamed Vindman and others for helping embolden Russian president Vladimir Putin.
"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 the interview. "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."
"There's much blame to go around, but in terms of atrocities, that falls squarely on the shoulders of Vladimir Putin and his cronies," Johnson said.
Johnson stands by comments
According to a statement from his office, Johnson stands behind his Fox News comments. In addition, the statement asserted, Pelosi, Schiff and Vindman "weakened Ukraine by harming its relationship with the U.S. and therefore made Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian aggression, destabilization efforts, and ultimately invasion.
"Lt. Col Vindman’s actions demonstrated disloyalty to both the U.S. President he served and the Ukrainian people we were trying to help," the statement from his office said.
Vindman, who is a senior advisor for the liberal group Vote Vets, countered that Johnson was "a huge disappointment" on the Ukraine issue.
"He's responsible more so than many of his colleagues for creating a situation in which the U.S. actually might find itself in a hot war," Vindman said.
Asked if Johnson believed he held any responsibility for what is now occurring in Ukraine, the senator's office responded: "Absolutely not. Senator Johnson has been consistently supportive of the people of Ukraine who want to rid their nation of corruption and live in freedom, peace, and prosperity."
Johnson's office noted the senator has made seven trips to Ukraine since 2011 and co-sponsored multiple resolutions and bills in support of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian-born Vindman and Johnson have a history.
"There was a time when I thought he was a good actor, a good guy," Vindman said.
They were in the Ukraine capital of Kyiv in May 2019 as part of the U.S. delegation attending Zelensky's inauguration.
"I tried to make him feel at home, make him feel welcome," Vindman said.
He recalled having a conversation with Johnson.
"He was pretty aggressive in providing support for Ukraine in arming the Ukrainians, giving this new president d everything you need to resist Russian coercion at that point, Russian aggression in a war that had been unfolding for the preceding five years," Vindman said.
Vindman said he told Johnson that Trump was "not necessarily supportive of such a forward-leaning approach."
"This was a very awkward position to be in because I had to point this out to the senator," Vindman said. "That I also don't agree with the policy. But I have to carry the water of the president. The president was already kind of testing the waters on withholding security assistance."
Vindman added: "I wanted him (Johnson) to understand that while he might feel strongly about this and that it's the right thing to do, the chief executive might not be on board."
"He gave me this quizzical look, like I was a crazy person, like I was the one that was out of step," Vindman said.
Vindman's 'assertions are completely false'
Johnson's office said in a statement that Vindman's "assertions are completely false," and pointed to a Nov. 2019 letter Johnson wrote House Republicans. In that letter, he recalled a conversation he had with Vindman in Ukraine.
"I had just finished making the point that supporting Ukraine was essential because it was ground zero in our geopolitical competition with Russia," Johnson wrote. "I was surprised when Vindman responded to my point. He stated that it was the position of the NSC (National Security Council) that our relationship with Ukraine should be kept separate from our geopolitical competition with Russia.
"My blunt response was, 'How in the world is that even possible?' "
Johnson wrote he didn't know if "Vindman accurately stated the NSC's position, whether President Trump shared that viewpoint, or whether Vindman was really expressing his own view."
Johnson wrote he believed "that a significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their 'turf.' They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile."
Vindman charged Johnson wrote the letter to undermine his credibility before he gave testimony in the impeachment.
He said Johnson "scurried back to his comfort zone, which is how a political creature, a political animal that saw his political survival in pandering to Donald Trump."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Alexander Vindman says Ron Johnson 'a huge disappointment' on Ukraine