The public impeachment hearings were barely underway when Jim Jordan, the GOP’s attack Chihuahua, began to yap about the whistleblower. Where’s the whistleblower? Why can’t we question the whistleblower? Bring in the whistleblower! Who’s the whistleblower?
That’s what passes these days for a Republican defense, as decreed by Donald Trump, who recently railed: “The whistleblower is a disgrace to our country. A disgrace. And the whistleblower, because of that, should be revealed.”
Why are Trump and his authoritarian enablers so obsessed with outing the whistleblower, who is protected by a web of federal laws that safeguard the identities of patriotic dissenters?
Indeed, why are they still obsessed with the whistleblower at all - given the fact that most of his (or her) August complaint has been solidly collaborated by documents and an ever-lengthening roster of sworn witnesses?
Easy answer: Mobsters always obsess about “finks” and “rats.” When mobsters are caught red-handed, they try to target whoever dimed them out.
Easy answer II: Trump always needs to have an enemy, and as he helplessly hurtles toward impeachment, he badly needs one now. Putting a face on the whistleblower would be chum for his sharks. (After all, he doesn’t have much else to offer in terms of a defense.)
Trump’s sharks in the House used to care (or claim to care) about protecting whistleblowers’ identities. Back in 2016, Mark Meadows said: “What I’m not going to tolerate is retaliation on whistleblowers. I protect my whistleblowers.” In 2017, Devin Nunes said: “Sources and methods are kept very confidential. We invite whistleblowers to come forward.” But purging one’s principles is de rigueur for anyone who wears the Trump armband.
Federal statutes don’t specifically bar a president or a member of Congress from outing the name of a whistleblower. But it’s abundantly clear that the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Inspector General Act put strong emphasis on confidentiality.
Here’s one provision, 15 USC 12139(h): “The identity of any individual who makes a (complaint) may not be disclosed without such individual’s consent.” Here’s another, intended specifically for the intelligence community’s watchdog: “The Inspector General shall not, after receipt of a complaint or information from an employee, disclose the identity of the employee without the consent of the employee...” And the complaint form filled out by the Trump whistleblower features this line: “I understand that in handling my disclosure, the Inspector General shall not disclose my identity without my consent.”
Nothing chills patriotic dissent more effectively than the threat of exposure - and the resulting danger of retaliation. And at least five Republican senators - Charles Grassley, Mitt Romney, Jodi Ernst, John Thune, and Susan Collins - have actually vetted that obvious fact. Collins said earlier this month: “Whistleblowers are entitled to protection under the law...To try to reveal the identity of this individual is contrary to the intent of the whistleblower law.”
Alas, Trump’s House henchmen care nothing about the rule of law and American values. Trashing the spirit of the whistleblower law - in effect, obsessing about the person who calls 911 instead of focusing on the reason for calling 911 - is just another Trumpist weapon of mass distraction.
But the good news Wednesday was that the weapon ignited in Jim Jordan’s hands. Late in the public hearing, he yapped anew: “We will never get the chance, we will never get the chance, to see the whistleblower raise his right hand, swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, we’ll never get that chance, more importantly the American people will never get that chance.”
But Jordan’s call was met with this delicious riposte, from Democrat Peter Welch: “Thank you. I’d say to my colleague, I’d be glad to have the person who started it all to come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”
Laughter, at Jordan’s expense, rolled through the room. In grim times like these, mirth is a great tonic.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.