The GOP’s cynical campaign to identify the whistleblower who exposed details of President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president is nonsensical and dangerous.
The fact that named witnesses — and the White House itself — have subsequently confirmed the core allegation makes the whistleblower’s identity irrelevant. Demanding exposure makes it less likely that future whistleblowers will step forward to expose official wrongdoing.
Breaking the legal guarantee of anonymity to whistleblowers for the sake of defending Trump against impeachment isn’t the kind of legacy any political party should want.
An unnamed government official, acting under federal whistleblower-protection law, was the one who first alerted the intelligence community inspector general about Trump’s alleged decision to withhold military aid unless Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy publicly announced an investigation involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The whistleblower had credible reason to believe Trump had violated the law and committed an impeachable offense. The inspector general, a Trump appointee, determined the complaint merited investigation.
To hear congressional Republicans tell it, that anonymous tip is the whole case against Trump — a narrative that ignores mountains of additional testimony supporting what the whistleblower claimed.
In fact, the White House itself subsequently released a phone call summary in which Trump responded to Zelenskiy’s plea for U.S. military aid with, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”
Trump went on to ask that Ukraine investigate the Bidens and pursue a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind foreign meddling in the 2016 election meddling.
That conversation was confirmed by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert who was on the call. Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, also testified that he’d had misgivings about the role of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in dealings with Ukraine.
Perhaps most damning was the about-face by the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, a Trump loyalist who initially offered testimony clearing the president of impropriety.
Sondland later changed his testimony to admit he told others that U.S. aid was predicated on the Ukrainian investigations — sounding very much like a man whose lawyers had impressed upon him the legal importance of accurate testimony.
Trump’s declaration that the whistleblower is a “spy” who must be exposed is a typically authoritarian impulse from a president who long ago stopped pretending to care about the norms of a democratic society. But it’s frightening that key congressional Republicans have now joined this chorus.
Americans should remember that this is the equivalent of demanding the identity of an anonymous caller whose tip about a jewel heist leads police to catching the thieves red-handed. At that point, why does the tipster’s identity matter? That is, unless someone is casting around for any excuse to spring the thieves.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.