Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart told Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on Tuesday that he was wrong to equate President Donald Trump’s request for “a favor” from a foreign power with an “order” or demand.
“It’s nonsense. Look, I was in the military,” said Stewart, who retired from the Air Force as a major. “I could distinguish between a favor and an order and a demand, and so could my subordinates.”
Stewart, a Utah Republican who has joined his GOP colleagues in attempting to peel apart the testimony of Vindman and other witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry, said Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have both said they understood Trump asking for a “favor” in a July phone call was a simple request, not a demand.
“He never initiated an investigation,” Stewart said of the Ukrainian president. “In fact, he’s been very clear: He said I never felt any pressure at all. So you interpreted the word ‘favor,’ but the two people who were speaking to each other did not interpret that as a demand. That was your interpretation.”
Vindman, a decorated Army officer who was the first to raise concerns about Trump’s call with Zelenskiy, which Vindman deemed “improper” because it involved the president asking a foreign power to investigate a political rival.
Trump had specifically mentioned “Biden” in the call, a reference to former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate. Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father served in the Obama administration.
Stewart’s contention was clear: Vindman was misinterpreting words used in a call because neither Trump nor Zelenskiy had served in the military.
“Would it be fair, then,” Stewart said, “to take a person who has never served in the military and to take your reevaluation of their words based on your military experience and your military culture and to encourage that culture and that meaning those words to someone who has never served?”
“Representative, I made that judgment,” the lieutenant colonel, dressed in his Army uniform, responded. “I stick by that judgment.”
Stewart, who wore flight wings on his suit as he usually does — they belonged to his father, who was also an Air Force pilot — also quizzed Vindman on why he corrected the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee for calling him Mr. Vindman.
Vindman had asked earlier for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., to refer to him by his military rank.
“Do you always insist on civilians calling you by your rank?” Stewart asked.
Vindman noted that he was dressed in his military uniform and clearly wearing his rank and noted that because of the attacks on his reputation, Vindman thought it appropriate to remind everyone of his military service.
The line of questioning brought a quick rebuke on social media with a former Stewart staffer, Emily Coleman, tweeting, “As someone who worked on Rep. Stewart’s staff for just under two years, working to fight on behalf of military personnel for their benefits, I am deeply embarrassed by this line of questioning.”
David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and now a political commentator, noted on Twitter, “Man wearing his father's military insignia attacking a Purple Heart's military credentials.”
Vindman was awarded a Purple Heart after being injured while serving in Iraq.