Note: this article, featuring our Legal Director Tom Devine, was originally published here.
Outing the Whistleblower Could Be Illegal. Expect Them to Get Away with It.
Republicans hope to unmask and discredit an accuser who’s already been proven correct.
Over the past week, President Donald Trump and his allies have turned their attention to the whistleblower whose complaint sparked a formal impeachment investigation. While the president’s son on Wednesday tweeted a name he alleged was the person, his camp has been calling on the press to out the anonymous whistleblower, who they claim is a partisan Democrat. Experts on laws protecting whistleblowers say this harassment crosses the bounds of legality, but that it is unlikely the Justice Department will step in.
On Sunday, Trump told reporters that he wanted them to unmask the whistleblower. “The whistleblower gave a very inaccurate report about my phone call,” he said. “You know who it is. You just don’t want to report it. CNN knows who it is, but you don’t want to report it. And you know, you would be doing the public a service if you did.” His Republican allies in Congress have picked up this message. Standing next to Trump at a rally on Monday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also called for the media to release the person’s name. On Capitol Hill, Republicans have begun pushing the name of a person that conservative publications have reported—without confirmation—is the whistleblower by saying the name in closed-door hearings and tweeting articles containing it. One Congress member, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), said the name out loud in a hearing unrelated to the impeachment inquiry. The campaign reached a new peak on Wednesday when Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a name he fingered as the whistleblower, insinuated the person is anti-Trump, and provided a link to an article purporting to detail the whistleblower’s biography.
While unmasking the whistleblower, which could put the person in harm’s way, may run afoul of federal law, available whistleblower protections are weak. Congress passed a law in 1912 law protecting federal employees’ right to share information with its members and committees, it is so short and sweet that it fails to provide any means of enforcing the right.