John Roberts refuses to read question from Rand Paul on whistleblower

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts refused to read a question submitted by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Tim Kaine tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies MORE (R-Ky.) during Thursday's question-and-answer session in President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE's impeachment trial.

Paul and Roberts have been battling over the question, which was expected to be about the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Because the question is thought to name the whistleblower and Roberts is responsible for reading the questions aloud, that would put him in the position of publicly outing the person on the floor of the Senate.

A Senate page brought the question from Paul to Roberts, who appeared to pause to read it. 

"The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said. 

Roberts then sat the slip of paper with Paul's query aside and the Senate moved on to the next question. 

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Paul argued during a brief press conference after the floor drama that his question "made no reference to any whistleblower" and that Roberts's decision was an "incorrect finding." 

"I think this is an important question, one that deserves to be asked. It makes no reference to anybody who may or may not be a whistleblower," Paul said. 
 
Paul then read his question, which names both a staff member for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE and the individual who has been reported in conservative media as the possible whistleblower, and asks about their contacts. 
 
Paul added that he wanted to ask the House managers if they know whether the two individuals named in the question were working together "to plot impeaching the president before there were  formal House impeachment proceedings." 

Paul could have challenged Roberts's decision to refuse his question. Speculation had swirled around the Capitol on Thursday that Paul would try to overrule Roberts and potentially force the Senate to try to table his question.  

But Paul told reporters that while he wrestled with whether to challenge Roberts on the floor "until the very last minute," he expected the Senate would have a lengthy session on Friday and decided to bypass a vote on Thursday. 

Republican senators had made it clear that they did not support Paul's effort to name the whistleblower. 
 
 
"We’ve been respectful of the chief justice’s unique position in reading our questions, and I want to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue," McConnell said.
 
Paul said he had not had any discussion with McConnell about his question. Asked if he thought the GOP leader's remarks were directed at him, Paul laughed and said, "It does sound like code, didn't it?"
 
McConnell's No. 2, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US death toll nears 100,000 as country grapples with reopening GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (S.D.), also told reporters that he did expect the whistleblower's name would be allowed to be read during the impeachment trial. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Graham announces hearing on police use of force after George Floyd killing In a new cold war with China, America may need to befriend Russia MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday that he didn’t think the impeachment trial was the setting for Paul’s whistleblower fight.
 
Asked if he thought the question was a good idea, Graham responded: "Not in this environment."
 
Because the question names the whistleblower and Roberts is responsible for reading the questions aloud, that would put him in the position of publicly outing the person on the floor of the Senate.

A source confirmed Wednesday that Roberts has indicated he would not read a question from Paul regarding the whistleblower.

Paul argued that his colleagues were making selective use of federal whistleblower laws and the Privacy Act of 1974.

"A statue shouldn't be such that people can use and then nobody says they know who the person is, but anybody you say might be is all the sudden protected from being part of the debate," he said.

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.

Updated at 1:58 p.m.