Democrats warn GOP, Trump putting whistleblower safety at risk

Democrats say President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE is putting at risk the physical safety and well-being of the government whistleblower at the heart of their impeachment investigation.

As they seek to get additional testimony from the anonymous official, they are also warning Republicans and the White House that the federal protections that encourage potential informants within the government to speak up should be respected.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroLawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals House Democrats reintroduce bill addressing diversity at State Department Julian Castro joins NBC and MSNBC as political analyst MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee that is investigating Trump, said the president’s tweets and statements threaten to make the whistleblower the target of attacks.

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“The president is … basically on the verge of not only revealing the identity, or getting somebody else to reveal the identity of a whistleblower, but also bringing harm to that person,” Castro told CNN. “It’s getting quite scary.” 

GOP lawmakers seeking to protect Trump are questioning the whistleblower's credibility and political motivations, all but inviting the source’s identity to be revealed. They see a potential “deep-state” agitator who has it in for the president.

“I can't believe we're talking about impeaching the president based on an accusation based on hearsay,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-S.C.), a top Trump ally, said Sunday on CBS's “Face the Nation.” “Who is this whistleblower? What bias do they have?”

The escalating partisan standoff is also creating a challenge for Democrats in their inquiry: How to protect the whistleblower’s identity and not make matters worse.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOfficers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing Live coverage: House panel holds first hearing on Jan. 6 probe Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work MORE (D-Calif.) has said he’s reached a tentative agreement with the undisclosed source, reportedly a CIA official once embedded at the White House, to testify before his panel behind closed doors.

A source familiar with the whistleblower’s situation said Tuesday that congressional lawmakers have given assurances they would protect their identity.

“Every interaction with Congress to date has supported the notion that the identity of the client will be protected,” the source told The Hill. 

The source also emphasized that no agreement has been finalized in securing the whistleblower’s testimony, though “discussions continue.” 

“There are simply many logistical factors to take into account that have to be addressed first and everyone is working through them,” the source said. 

Schiff’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The Intelligence Committee chairman was spotted Tuesday afternoon in the Capitol, where he and his staff were working out of the secure meeting space used by the panel. But he did not answer reporters’ questions.

Republicans have latched onto the narrative, first floated by The Federalist, a conservative website, that the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, had quietly lowered the bar last month for whistleblower complaints to allow the submission of secondhand accounts. That claim was debunked — and Atkinson has said he based the complaint on rules drafted in 2018 — but it hasn’t prevented Trump and his congressional allies from pointing to the alleged change as evidence of a brewing political conspiracy against the president. 

“WHO CHANGED THE LONG STANDING WHISTLEBLOWER RULES JUST BEFORE SUBMITTAL OF THE FAKE WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT?” Trump tweeted Monday. “DRAIN THE SWAMP!”

 The dynamics have raised concerns among those lawmakers supporting whistleblower protections that the source of the current complaint will most likely be outed. 

“I hope we can protect this individual's name,” Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (R-Texas) told “Face the Nation.” “I find it highly unlikely in this incredibly partisan environment." 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-Iowa), a longtime champion of whistleblower protections, defended the whistleblower and in a measured statement that did not directly mention Trump, called on all parties — including the media — to protect the source’s identity.

“We should always work to respect whistleblowers’ requests for confidentiality. Any further media reports on the whistleblower’s identity don’t serve the public interest—even if the conflict sells more papers or attracts clicks,” said Grassley, the longest-serving GOP senator and the former Judiciary Committee chairman who has authored many whistleblower-protection laws.  

The New York Times last week came under some criticism for identifying the whistleblower as a CIA official who had been on a temporary work detail at the White House.

“No one should be making judgments or pronouncements without hearing from the whistleblower first and carefully following up on the facts,” Grassley added. “Uninformed speculation wielded by politicians or media commentators as a partisan weapon is counterproductive and doesn’t serve the country.”

A report produced by the whistleblower and released by the House Intelligence Committee last week accused Trump of pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July 25 phone call to investigate a potential political opponent, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE. The report said White House officials aware of the call had sought to prevent the information from ever being revealed, for fear they had witnessed the president using his office for personal gain.

Trump has ramped up his criticism of the whistleblower since the release of the report, accusing the individual of bias and arguing there was nothing wrong with his call.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireJudge dismisses Nunes's defamation suit against Washington Post Retired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts MORE testified last week, however, that the whistleblower acted in good faith and had done the right thing by coming forward.

Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyGyms, hotels, bus companies make last-ditch plea for aid Carole Baskin: People 'will be outraged' by conditions exotic animals face House panel includes 0 million election security grant in proposed appropriations bill MORE (D-Ill.) said Monday it was vital to ensure the safety of whistleblowers, and that keeping the source’s anonymity was critical.

“It operates in secret for a reason: to keep us safe, to protect sources and methods,” Quigley, a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN Monday. “But it only works in an open democratic system when we have a whistleblowing system — a pressure valve, if you will — and oversight by Congress.”

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Pelosi calls on CDC to extend eviction moratorium unilaterally MORE (D-Calif.), an early backer of the impeachment push, pressed Republicans to get more aggressive in stopping Trump’s threats against the whistleblower.

“I'm calling on the GOP to stop Trump's filthy talk of whistleblowers being spies & using mob language implying they should be killed,” Waters said in a tweet. “Impeachment is not good enough for Trump. He needs to be imprisoned & placed in solitary confinement. But for now, impeachment is the imperative.”