Democrats warn GOP, Trump putting whistleblower safety at risk

Democrats say President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Anderson Cooper: Trump's Bubba Wallace tweet was 'racist, just plain and simple' Beats by Dre announces deal with Bubba Wallace, defends him after Trump remarks Overnight Defense: DOD reportedly eyeing Confederate flag ban | House military spending bill blocks wall funding 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 CastroSteyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary Hispanic Caucus formally endorses George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Technical difficulties mar several remote House hearings 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 GrahamTrump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Bubba Wallace responds to Trump: 'Even when it's HATE from the POTUS.. Love wins' Lindsey Graham defends NASCAR, Bubba Wallace amid Trump criticism 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 SchiffDemocrats hit Trump for handling of Russian bounty allegations after White House briefing Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Democrats face tough questions with Bolton 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 HurdKaren Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - States are pausing reopening Democrats release bilingual ads on police reform bill MORE (R-Texas) told “Face the Nation.” “I find it highly unlikely in this incredibly partisan environment." 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley won't attend GOP convention amid coronavirus uptick Meadows teases Trump action on immigration, China, prescription drugs Trump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP 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 BidenTrump renews culture war, putting GOP on edge Atlanta mayor says she has tested positive for COVID-19 Trump downplaying sparks new criticism of COVID-19 response 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 MaguireTrump gives Grenell his Cabinet chair after he steps down Top intel official leaving post Grenell announces creation of intelligence community 'cyber executive' 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 QuigleyDemocrats accuse SBA of stonewalling GAO's attempts to oversee lending program Democrats call for probe into ouster of State Dept. watchdog Bipartisan lawmakers call for global 'wet markets' ban amid coronavirus crisis 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: Mnuchin, Powell differ over how soon economy will recover | Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress | IRS chief pledges to work on tax code's role in racial wealth disparities Millions fear eviction without more aid from Congress House approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote 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.”