Democrats warn GOP, Trump putting whistleblower safety at risk

Democrats say President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview 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 argue for national Latino museum The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight to take center stage at Dem debate The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising 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 GrahamErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens 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 SchiffWhite House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours Trump embarks on Twitter spree amid impeachment inquiry, Syria outrage House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment 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 HurdLawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony Romney: Trump requesting Biden investigation from China, Ukraine 'wrong and appalling' MORE (R-Texas) told “Face the Nation.” “I find it highly unlikely in this incredibly partisan environment." 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate 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 BidenCNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview Yang cautions Democrats: Impeachment might not be 'successful' Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment 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 MaguireSecond intel official considering filing complaint over Trump: report Overnight Defense: State approves M weapons sale to Ukraine | Pompeo rejects Dem demands for officials' testimony | Dems worry about whistleblower's safety | US, North Korea to hold talks Democrats warn GOP, Trump putting whistleblower safety at risk 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 QuigleyIn testimony, Dems see an ambassador scorned, while GOP defends Trump Ex-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony Tax-return whistleblower in spotlight amid impeachment fight 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 WatersHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets On The Money: Tax, loan documents for Trump properties reportedly showed inconsistencies | Tensions flare as Dems hammer Trump consumer chief | Critics pounce as Facebook crypto project stumbles Zuckerberg meets with Waters ahead of congressional testimony 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.”