Guest columnist Mark Karpel: Let’s show that here, right matters

  • In this Nov. 19, 2019, photo, National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. Vindman was escorted out of the White House complex on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, according to his lawyer.

Published: 3/2/2021 9:42:07 AM

It’s clear now that Donald Trump’s 2019 pressure campaign on Ukraine’s president to manufacture false accusations against Joe Biden was a dress rehearsal for his full-on efforts in 2020 to cheat his way to reelection.

Both feature the same toxic stew of lies and threats (which, in both cases, led to actual deaths); back-channel end-runs around official — that is, nonpartisan — channels; and the firing of honest public servants.

Many in government avidly abetted those campaigns; others kept their heads down and their mouths shut, fearing Trump’s well-demonstrated penchant for retribution. A few stood up, told the truth, and testified publicly at enormous risk to their professional and personal lives — none more movingly than Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. He told his superiors what he overheard on Trump’s notorious phone call with President Zelensky and testified at the first impeachment of Trump.

Vindman’s father, who grew up under Soviet rule in Ukraine, worried about the risk his son was taking in defying the government — an act that would have meant imprisonment and possibly death in that world. Vindman reassured his father that he was unafraid “because this is America — the country I’ve served and defended… — and here right matters.”

In that moment, Vindman was wrong. He was summarily fired, along with his twin brother who had no involvement in those events. Both were walked off the White House grounds immediately after his testimony. Vindman was reassigned from the National Security Council to the Defense Department and, less than a year later, he resigned from the military.

His attorney, David Pressman, said: “After more than 21 years of military service, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is retiring today after it has been made clear that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited… Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President.”

Vindman, he said, chose his country and his “patriotism cost him his career.”

At that time, Vindman was publicly shamed and discredited, but now his patriotism and courage can and should be recognized and publicly celebrated as the embodiment of what we value in this country. This could take the form of an official honor (the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the Profile in Courage Award) or reinstatement in government service in a public ceremony, should he so desire.

And, while we’re at it, we could do the same for others who were forced out of their jobs for truth-telling in the face of a corrupt and vindictive regime, such as Sally Yates (former acting attorney general), Marie Yovanovitch (former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine), Chris Krebs (former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) and Rick Bright (former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency).

Doing so would announce to the world that here, once again, right — and the truth — matter.

Mark Karpel lives in Northampton.

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