Whistleblowers deserve respect — anonymous public officials do not

Whistleblowers deserve respect — anonymous public officials do not
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Whistleblowers provide an invaluable service to society by exposing wrongdoing that otherwise would go undetected and unpunished, often at great risk to themselves. The person who anonymously authored the “quiet resistance” opinion piece published last week in the New York Times is nothing of the sort. True whistleblowers encounter serious criminal or otherwise improper activities and bring them to light.

This comes with the possibility of losing their livelihoods and their reputations, yet they persevere because they believe that justice is more important than an individual situation. Whether it involves exposing corporate fraud, calling out government abuses, or shining light on sexual harassment or assault, whistleblowing requires a great deal of courage and a leap of faith that coming forward will not lead to retaliation and ruin.

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What we witnessed last week was not whistleblowing but instead an exercise in self importance by a purported senior official within the Trump administration. This person could arguably have made a real difference. Instead this person took a bad situation and made it worse. The author could have continued serving in noble silence. It is highly doubtful he or she is nearly as important to the workings of government as the column makes it seem, and the republic would no doubt persevere just fine without this person. But if the author feels so strongly that his or her presence is necessary to protect the country from the president and “frustrate” his agenda, nothing was stopping this person from continuing to soldier on without notifying the world of this glorified mission.

Another approach would have been to do the honorable thing by resigning and going on the record before the American public. The author could have given up government pay and perks by showing the courage of his or her convictions to say publicly what he or she feels so strongly about. Rather than peddle in unverified rumors and innuendo, he or she could come out of the shadows and stand behind their allegations. If this person is truly so “senior” then his or her words and, more importantly, their actions could have great sway and actually impact voters.

Instead the author opted for the absolute worst path to make a case. The column, which was clearly timed with advance details from the latest book by Bob Woodward, contained a similar gossipy narrative of an administration beset by infighting and ineptitude. If the author truly works so closely to the president, it must have been no surprise that the days following have been filled with reports of internal witch hunts, loyalty pledges, and even a misplaced push to get the Justice Department involved. The author has taken an administration plagued by chaos and paranoia and caused it to become even more chaotic and paranoid.

Rather than a profile in courage, this was just the ultimate hedge. If the Trump administration weathers the various storms swirling around it and is successful, the author remains anonymous and reaps all the benefits of remaining close to the center of power. If it fails, the author can emerge as a hero of the resistance. Meanwhile, the president and America as a whole will look even weaker to its foreign enemies and the author will have further eroded public confidence in the White House.

As outside counsel to major corporations, I recognize the value of corporate cultures where employees feel free to expose criminal corruption and fraud without retaliation. As a military attorney, I want service members who witness atrocities and wrongdoing to know they can come forward without worrying about losing their careers. As a husband and father, I want all people to know they can shine the light of truth on sexually abusive figures in power without thinking they will be ignored. Whistleblowers often find themselves in tremendously difficult situations, and their courage in reporting serious crimes and injustices rather than remaining silent should be heralded and respected.

What happened last week did nothing but weaken this administration and the country. The misguided individual who authored this opinion piece presumably thinks he or she should receive a pat on the back for this selfless act and will one day emerge from the shadows to receive public acclaim. In fact, all this person did was continue the cycle of gossip and rumors, and all this person deserves is to be ignored.

Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice, a former staff member with the 9/11 Review Commission, and a United States Army combat veteran. He is now a litigation attorney with Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft. Follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno.