GOP argues whistleblower's name must be public

As the evidence mounts of a quid pro quo in President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE's dealings with Ukraine, the president's allies in Congress are increasingly hopeful they’ll find exoneration in a singular figure: the government whistleblower they're fighting to expose.

The clash over the whistleblower's identity — and that person’s right to anonymity — has emerged as a frontline battle in the partisan war over the Trump impeachment inquiry.

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Republicans on Capitol Hill contend that knowing the whistleblower’s identity is vital to the process, granting Trump the right to face his accuser — and learn of any political biases the figure might have. They are effectively waging a whisper campaign about the identity of the anonymous figure who filed the complaint triggering the inquiry launched just six weeks ago.

Democrats counter that the GOP efforts to out the whistleblower violate federal law and are a dangerous game that could jeopardize the safety of the individual.

“The president's allies would like nothing better than to help the president out this whistleblower. Our committee will not be a part of that,” Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Schiff says Justice Roberts should rule on witnesses Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line MORE (D-Calif.) said earlier in the week. “They have the right to remain anonymous. They certainly should not be subject to these kinds of vicious attacks.”

Democrats and the whistleblower’s attorney also note that other witnesses testifying in the investigation have confirmed allegations in the person’s initial complaint. Some have even offered new information that goes well beyond the whistleblower’s initial claims.

The foreign service officials who have testified privately in support of the whistleblower’s charges have eroded GOP arguments that the initial account is unreliable because it was learned secondhand, say Democrats, who contend the whistleblower's testimony is now superfluous to their investigation. 

“Because we have corroborated everything the whistleblower has alleged, having the whistleblower testify would put the whistleblower's life in serious jeopardy,” Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Enes Kanter sees political stardom — after NBA and WWE Swalwell pens op-ed comparing Trump impeachment to XYZ Affair MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN this week. “And so the question is, … is that person's life worth less than being redundant? And our position right now is that it's not.”

Trump, for his part, has said he’s trying to uncover the whistleblower’s identity, characterizing the figure as a “spy” with treasonous intent. And Republicans in Congress have eagerly joined the effort.

In closed-door depositions, private hallway conversations, public hearings and in tweets, the president’s GOP allies have targeted a specific individual — even as they readily concede they don’t know if that figure is the whistleblower. 

“Only Adam Schiff really knows who the whistleblower is,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power GOP warns of 'drawn out' executive privilege battle over Bolton testimony  GOP cries boredom in attack on impeachment case MORE (R-N.C.), the former Freedom Caucus chairman and a close Trump ally. 

The whistleblower debate is likely to escalate in the coming weeks, when the process will shift from closed-door depositions to wide-open hearings.

The Hill is not naming the individual being targeted by Republicans. It is also typically the policy of The Associated Press and other major news outlets not to reveal the identity of whistleblowers, who enjoy federal protections against retribution.

The whistleblower’s attorneys, Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid, said in a statement they would “neither confirm nor deny” the identity of their client. 

Both federal whistleblower laws and the Privacy Act of 1974 protect the individual’s anonymity within the executive branch, Zaid said.

However, nothing legally prohibits members of Congress, or the president himself, from revealing a whistleblower’s identity unless the individual is a covert agent.

That means it is possible lawmakers could choose to make the whistleblower’s name public, if they choose to do so.

“The whistleblower statute never required for anonymity," said Meadows, who has been attending the closed-door impeachment depositions. 

Meadows, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Mark Mellman: A failure of GOP leadership MORE (R-Calif.) and other top Trump allies have stated that there is only one member of Congress who knows the identity of the whistleblower: Schiff, one of three Democratic chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump. That’s because the whistleblower, after contacting the CIA’s legal counsel, had voiced his concerns to a member of Schiff’s staff on the Intelligence panel. Both contacts were made before the whistleblower filed his official complaint on Aug. 12.  

GOP lawmakers have been asking questions in the closed-door impeachment depositions that have been interpreted by Democrats as trying to unmask the whistleblower, a development first reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by The Hill.

The whistleblower’s attorneys, Bakaj and Zaid, have blasted members of Congress and the media who are trying to reveal the individual, arguing that even floating the name of someone suspected of being the whistleblower could result in “great physical danger” for that person and his or her family.

The attorneys pointed to recent comments by Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Trump to sign USMCA next Wednesday MORE (R-Iowa), chairman and founder of the Senate Whistleblower Caucus, who said whistleblowers “ought to be heard out and protected.”  

“It is beyond the pale of irresponsibility for a Member of Congress to vindictively and with partisan intent further promote conspiracy theories that could, especially in this day and age, lead to the physical harm of any individual,” Zaid said in an email to The Hill.