Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
On January 26, The New York Times reported on leaked portions of an unpublished manuscript from former national security adviser John Bolton, which the paper says revealed that President Donald Trump told Bolton he wanted to continue with a hold on Ukrainian military aid until the country opened investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The same night, Breitbart News swiftly posted a conspiratorial smear against the brother of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council expert on Ukraine who testified in the House impeachment inquiry in October. Breitbart claimed “a source close to the Trump administration” told the outlet that Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, Alexander’s brother, “is in charge of reviewing all publications by current and former NSC officials,” which would include Bolton’s book manuscript.
Right-wing media have attacked Alexander Vindman with detestable smears since October, when he testified to Congress that he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen” and that he “was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.” His testimony led to a swarm of right-wing media accusations that because he had immigrated from Ukraine as a small child, the Purple Heart winner may be more loyal toward Ukraine than the United States.
Now, right-wing media outlets are turning their attention toward Yevgeny. While Breitbart‘s report is accurate that Yevgeny is a “senior ethics lawyer” for the NSC, there is no evidence that he saw the manuscript. In fact, Fox News’ John Roberts tweeted on January 27 that his sources say Yevgeny “is NOT part of the NSC team vetting John Bolton’s manuscript.”
Still, that didn’t stop right-wing media figures — including some from Roberts’ own network — from promoting the smear that the leak of Bolton’s book manuscript was a conspiracy stemming from the Vindmans. Conservative media outlets including The Washington Times, RedState, and Biz Pac Review reported the story, citing Breitbart. Prominent figures in conservative media tweeted about the conspiracy theory, including Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, Fox News host Mark Levin, and right-wing radio host Bill Mitchell.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), one of Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress, also promoted the smear:
The War Room podcast co-host Jason Miller also tweeted about the smear, writing, “No such thing as coincidences in politics.” Conservative giant Rush Limbaugh also promoted it as fact on his radio show, saying, “Yevgeny Vindman is the guy vetting Bolton’s book.” Newsmax’s Emerald Robinson tweeted the Breitbart article, sarcastically adding, “What a coincidence … if you believe in coincidences.” Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity claimed on his radio show that “we’re hearing that the brother of a key Schiff impeachment witness” was allegedly involved in the leak, though he also said he had not confirmed the report and was getting it from Breitbart.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs similarly offered a disclaimer that a source denied the allegations to Fox News, but he mentioned that only after sharing the smear, saying, “Both Bolton and [Robert] O’Brien led the National Security Council that employed the likes of the infamous, anonymous whistleblower, never-Trumper Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, and his brother, Yevgeny Vindman, the security council senior ethics lawyer. Yevgeny is also in charge of reviewing publications for former or current NSC employees to ensure [removal of] confidential information — say, that sort of thing, well you know, that happens at the National Security Council, the CIA, and other secretive agencies.” Frequent Dobbs guest Ed Rollins then promoted the smear, effectively rendering Dobbs’ brief disclaimer moot.