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 PaulCongress set for clash over surveillance reforms Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Pelosi names first-ever House whistleblower ombudsman director MORE (R-Ky.) during Thursday's question-and-answer session in President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests Sotomayor, Ginsburg should have to recuse themselves on 'Trump related' cases Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' Sanders releases list of how to pay for his proposals 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 SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders steamrolls to South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday Schiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again' Trump: Nevada a 'great win' for Sanders 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. 
 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer on Trump intel shakeup: 'Disgrace,' 'closer to a banana republic' Bottom Line The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders's momentum puts Democrats on edge MORE (R-Ky.) appeared to make a back-handed reference to Paul at the start of Thursday's session, urging senators to be respectful of Roberts. 
 
"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 ThuneGOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran 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 GrahamThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Five things to know about emerging US, Taliban peace deal 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.