An attorney for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman fired off a letter to Fox News on Wednesday, asking the network to retract an October 28 segment of The Ingraham Angle in which a guest suggested that he engaged in espionage.
Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman of Boies Schiller Flexner, said in the letter that the segment “created a false factual basis to render sinister otherwise innocuous facts.” He wrote that the segment “sparked a torrent of republications and copycat false charges,” as President Donald Trump retweeted innuendo that he had dual loyalties.
Vindman was among those who listened to Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. On Tuesday, Vindman testified at the impeachment inquiry that he “couldn’t believe what I was hearing” as Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
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In the segment, aired the day before Vindman testified in a closed-door hearing, Ingraham summarized a New York Times article that described how Vindman emigrated from Ukraine as a child and is fluent in Ukrainian and Russian. She also cited reporting that Ukrainian officials sought advice from Vindman on how to deal with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, though typically they communicated in English.
Ingraham then said: “Now wait a second, John. Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine, while working inside the White House, apparently against the president’s interest, and usually, they spoke in English. Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?”
Then, her guest, John Yoo, responded, “I find that astounding, and in, you know, some people might call that espionage.” Yoo is a former deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration and law professor at UC Berkeley.
In his letter, Pressman wrote: “At no point during the segment did Fox News publish any facts that could reasonably provide a basis for accusing LTC Vindman of criminal — treasonous — misconduct. The viewer was left to understand that Ms. Ingraham, an attorney and former Supreme Court clerk, and her law professor guest must have had a factual basis for concluding that LTC Vindman engaged in espionage against the country he was sworn to protect. They did not.”
Pressman also raised other more recent attacks on Vindman, including a tweet that Ingraham sent Tuesday and a comment that Tucker Carlson made on his Fox News show.
“As a result,” Pressman wrote, “LTC Vindman and his family have been forced to examine options, including potentially moving onto a military base, in order to ensure their physical security in the face of threats rooted in the falsehood that Fox News originated.”
A spokesperson for Fox News said in a statement, “As a guest on Fox News, John Yoo was responsible for his own sentiments, and he has subsequently done interviews to clarify what he meant.”
That included a USA Today op-ed on November 1, in which Yoo wrote, “I really stepped in it this week.”
“I have tremendous respect for a decorated officer of the U.S. Army and a veteran of the Iraq War,” Yoo wrote. “I have no reason to question Vindman’s patriotism or loyalty to the United States.” Rather, he wrote that he “thought the Ukrainian contacts sounded like an espionage operation by the Ukrainians.”
He also gave an interview to CNN’s Chris Cuomo and clarified his remarks in a Facebook post.
But Pressman wrote that Yoo’s argument that he was accusing Ukraine of espionage is “as legally irrelevant as it is factually incredible.”
“Under the law, what matters is whether a reasonable viewer would have understood Mr. Yoo’s statements to refer to LTC Vindman,” he wrote.
“The very fact that Mr. Yoo wrote an article entitled, ‘No, I didn’t call Alexander Vindman a spy’ shows that he knew his statement was understood by reasonable viewers to have done just that,” he wrote.
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