A top aide to Rep. Devin Nunes has been providing conservative politicians and journalists with information—and misinformation—about the anonymous whistleblower who triggered the biggest crisis of Donald Trump’s presidency, two knowledgeable sources tell The Daily Beast.
Derek Harvey, who works for Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, has provided notes for House Republicans identifying the whistleblower’s name ahead of the high-profile depositions of Trump administration appointees and civil servants in the impeachment inquiry. The purpose of the notes, one source said, is to get the whistleblower’s name into the record of the proceedings, which committee chairman Adam Schiff has pledged to eventually release. In other words: it’s an attempt to out the anonymous official who helped trigger the impeachment inquiry.
On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that GOP lawmakers and staffers have “repeatedly” used a name purporting to be that of the whistleblower during the depositions. The paper named Harvey as driving lines of questioning Democrats saw as attempting to determine the political loyalties of witnesses before the inquiry. A former official told the Post that Harvey “was passing notes [to GOP lawmakers] the entire time” ex-NSC Russia staffer Fiona Hill was testifying.
“Exposing the identity of the whistleblower and attacking our client would do nothing to undercut the validity of the complaint’s allegations,” said Mark Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s attorneys. “What it would do, however, is put that individual and their family at risk of harm. Perhaps more important, it would deter future whistleblowers from coming forward in subsequent administrations, Democratic or Republican.” Zaid has represented The Daily Beast in freedom-of-information lawsuits against the federal government.
The whistleblower is not Harvey’s only target. Another is a staffer for the House intelligence committee Democrats whom The Daily Beast has agreed not to name due to concerns about reprisals against the staffer. Harvey, both sources said, has spread a false story alleging that the whistleblower contacted the staffer ahead of raising internal alarm about President Trump’s July 25 phone call attempting to get a “favor” from Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to damage Trump’s rival Joe Biden. In right-wing circles, contact with Schiff is meant to discredit the whistleblower as partisan.
The eagerness of Republicans to go after the intelligence committee staffer so alarmed Democrats that they raised the issue with GOP leadership, according to a senior official on the intelligence committee.
“We are aware of these unsupported and false attacks on a respected member of our staff,” the official told The Daily Beast. “It is completely inappropriate, and we have previously urged the Republican leadership to address this situation.”
The official would not comment on any aspect of the depositions’ proceedings.
Trump, who has called the whistleblower treasonous, has speculated baselessly that Schiff is the source of the whistleblower’s account of the Zelensky call, even though Schiff was not on the call and Trump’s own summary of the call corroborated the whistleblower’s second-hand account.
Derek Harvey’s career has been extraordinary. As a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, he played an important role in the 2007-8 troop surge in Iraq. David Petraeus kept Harvey aboard for an intelligence billet at U.S. Central Command. Harvey aligned with another member of the counterinsurgency coterie, DIA Director Mike Flynn, and followed Flynn onto Trump’s White NSC. From there, Harvey became a crucial aide to Nunes, a pivotal Flynn and Trump ally. There is no reasonable definition of Deep State that excludes Derek Harvey from elite membership.
Harvey did not respond to a request for comment. The staffer declined to comment. A spokesperson for Nunes did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite hearing of the Trump-Zelensky call secondhand, the whistleblower’s account of Trump’s pressure campaign against Ukraine has been corroborated by numerous witnesses before the impeachment inquiry, as well as Trump’s own account of the July 25 call. Sources believe the persistent conservative focus on the whistleblower is both an attempt at deterring other would-be whistleblowers and discrediting the impeachment as politically motivated, though it is unclear what misconduct the whistleblower is alleged to have engaged in.
Influential conservatives have claimed that the whistleblower’s identity is no secret at all. On Oct. 24, Fred Fleitz, formerly chief of staff of the NSC under John Bolton and a CIA official before that, claimed on CNN that OANN, Breitbart, the House Intelligence Committee, CNN and the White House “has the name.” Fleitz asserted as well that “the president knows who he is.” Fleitz cited no source for his information.
Harvey has a history of passing on information to damage colleagues. As The Daily Beast reported in March, an April 2017 email that senior State Department official Brian Hook sent to himself, titled “Derek notes,” contained descriptions of State Department officials suspected of disloyalty or troublesomeness. Examples of such disloyalty included “butter[ing] up to Clinton people,” Hook wrote. The email is currently being examined by a State Department inspector general investigation into department politicization.
Harvey is not the only Nunes ally involved in the Ukraine story. A former Nunes staffer who now works on the NSC, Kash Patel, gave Trump damaging information about Ukraine, Politico recently reported. Patel was a driving force behind Nunes’ efforts in 2017 and 2018 to discredit the origins of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russian election interference.
Far-right news groups like the Gateway Pundit blog and the OANN TV network have run pieces naming their guess at the whistleblower’s identity. The official identified by OANN and Gateway Pundit has been a target for fringe conservative media figures even before the whistleblower filed his complaint to the DNI Inspector General’s office.
GOP criticism of the whistleblower has focused on their contact with Democratic investigators as people like Harvey spread the idea that they were in cahoots. That line of attack went into overdrive on Oct. 2, when Schiff’s camp confirmed that the whistleblower reached out to the Intelligence Committee before filing a formal complaint in order to get “guidance on how to report possible wrongdoing within the intelligence community.” But the whistleblower, per a spokesman for Schiff, did not tell the chairman the content of the complaint nor the identity of the whistleblower.
Still, that seemed to contradict Schiff’s statement in late September that Democrats had “not spoken directly” with the whistleblower, a remark the congressman later told The Daily Beast he regretted he did not make “much more clear.”
Those statements have provided fuel for allegations from Trump and his allies that the whistleblower and Democrats were engaged in some unseemly coordination before the fact, or that they did not follow the proper whistleblower laws.
Zaid, meanwhile, has stressed that the whistleblower acted properly and without any kind of coordination or interference. “The whistleblower drafted the Complaint entirely on their own. Legal counsel Andrew Bakaj provided guidance on process but was not involved in the drafting of the document and did not review it in advance,” Zaid told ABC News on Oct. 2.
“In fact, none of the legal team saw the Complaint until it was publicly released by Congress,” Zaid said. “To be unequivocally clear, no Member or congressional staff had any input into or reviewed the Complaint before it was submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General.”
That inspector general, Michael Atkinson, has said in letters to top lawmakers that the whistleblower’s complaint was credible and urgent. Though Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, did not believe he had to notify the Intelligence committees of the complaint as required by law, he nevertheless testified before lawmakers on Sept. 26 that the whistleblower “followed the steps every step of the way.”