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Radical Republicans are on a whistleblower witch hunt

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Terry H. Schwadron
Terry H. Schwadron

Just what do Republicans gain by unveiling the whistleblower?

Conservative news media are circulating—without confirmation—the identity of a CIA operative who had been assigned to Donald Trump’s White House, and outspoken Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are joining with Trump in seeking to publicize the name. Paul, by the way, would be an “impartial” juror in any impeachment trial.

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I don’t get the move, except as a deflection.

Disclosing the name runs counter to the spirit of the law meant to protect federal whistleblowers. Indeed, the law was passed to encourage people to come forward with reports of wrong-doing without fear of retribution.

Calling for the name of the whistleblower is a sure threat against other would-be whistleblowers.

Moreover, disclosure of the name of the whistleblower doesn’t change the information that was forwarded to Michael K. Atkinson, the Trump-appointed Inspector General for the Intelligence Community, who decided it was worth actual congressional investigation. Nor does it change the several testimonies of witnesses, including people who sat in on the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy, or otherwise posted in Ukraine.

These witnesses have told a consistent story of extortion by Trump, including in revised testimony by Trump-appointed ambassador Gordon Sondland released yesterday.

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Of course, calling for the name of the whistleblower is a sure threat against other would-be whistleblowers.

The Republican Argument

It is clear that Trump, Paul and the others want to discredit the person, probably looking for party affiliations as a Democrat, or assignments under the previous administration.

But other than serving as a target for personal insult—and possible violence at the hands of Trump loyalists—what possible difference could it make it the whistleblower is a registered Democrat. So am I. Trump insists that “reading the transcript”— the redacted summary of the July 25 phone call—would make it obvious to anyone that he had a “perfect” phone call without a quid pro quo.

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But a reading of the note does show the deal being sought as dirt on Joe Biden’s family in return for the release of lethal military aid to Ukraine. And more, the phone call is hardly the substance of the impeachment matter any longer since it is clear that the efforts toward the deal were months-long.

I do understand—though I do not agree—the Republican argument that there may have been a quid pro quo but that it does not rise to the level of impeachment. But even more, then, what possible gain could come from the release of the name of the whistleblower?

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The important thing is that the whistleblower report started a process that was pushed by the named inspector general to the Department of Justice, the CIA and Congress, and that process has brought forth people who were in the center of the issues being considered that lap any “second-hand” information reported by the whistleblower.

For what it is worth, the named witnesses to the House Intelligence Committee each have proved a target for Republican insult and discredit rather than congratulations and thanks for stepping up to testify both in private and, shortly, in public.

More of the Same

At the same time, the Department of Justice is going after the identity of Anonymous, a self-described White House insider who has written a new book awaiting publication. Justice, through Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, is using a combination of executive privilege, non-disclosure and intelligence community protocols in an effort to unearth the name.

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Once again, the goal seems more about setting up the author, who last year had published a New York Times op-ed criticizing chaos in the White House, for public insult and abasement.

Indeed, the White House has demanded non-disclosure form signatures from all whom it has hired, in a blatant attempt to keep critical words from emerging from his administration.

I would understand all these efforts if they actually had something for you and me to gain from the disclosure. But knowing the name of the whistleblower or Anonymous or any of the named witnesses to date has not changed the underlying facts.

Republicans should drop this silly line and decide whether they want to defend bending U.S. foreign policy for the perceived political gain of a president who has no respect for the law or the Constitution.

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