This week, a sitting United States senator and the president of the United States shouted and demanded that a federally protected whistleblower be unveiled, outed, and subpoenaed.
That senator, Rand Paul (R-KY), went so far as to say, “I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name. And I say this to my fellow colleagues in Congress, to every Republican in Washington, step up and subpoena Hunter Biden and subpoena the whistleblower!"
The president, for his part, has been shouting and tweeting about the identity of the whistleblower for weeks, asking “why are we protecting a person that tells you things that aren’t true.”
Even as more evidence has poured in and with open hearings on impeachment beginning next week as witness after witness has confirmed the core elements of the whistleblower’s account, the president is trying to vest in himself the authority to declare what is true.
But the body designated to receive the complaint, review it, and act upon it is in fact Congress. This is established in the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, a federal law whose sole purpose it to protect federal workers who see activity in the workplace, that may constitute an abuse of power, of workplace rules, or federal regulations. This can include mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. A federal agency in turn violates the act if those in power or authority take or threaten to take retaliatory personnel action against any employee or applicant because they filed a complaint about the conduct in question.
Despite the calls of the president and his minions to unmask the whistleblower, or to assert that the president’s Sixth Amendment rights are being violated, America has a long principled history of protecting whistleblowers. It goes back to the Founding Fathers.
They were so clear about how they wanted this Republic to run, free from the abuses of the executive or of the government itself, that on July 30, 1778, just two years after the United States was founded and before it had even won its independence from Great Britain, the Second Continental Congress passed a unanimous resolution in what was the nation’s first whistleblower case involving a group of naval service members who made allegations of misconduct and abuse against their powerful commander, Esek Hopkins. Delivering their petition to the Congress, a Marine captain, John Grannis, testified of Hopkins: “His conversation is at times so wild and orders so unsteady that I have sometimes thought he was not in his senses.” Hopkins, suspended and relieved of his command, sued in retaliation for libel and, when the defendants prevailed, Congress paid their legal fees of over $1,400 (or about $26,000 in 2019)
And Congress passed a resolution, with no known dissenting votes, stating: Resolved, That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.
As Allison Stanger, author of Whistleblowers: Honesty in America from Washington to Trump, put it: “protecting whistleblowers is in our American DNA.”
The bottom line is that identity of or even the motives Trump’s whistleblower are moot. What we know now is that everything he said has been corroborated through the testimony of people with direct knowledge of the call between president Trump and the president of Ukraine.
That’s the reality the president and his allies simply do not want to deal with.