George Boardman: The truth, not the intent, of the whistleblower’s complaint is what counts
House Republicans’ defense of President Donald Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine’s president appears to consist of exposing and discrediting the whistleblower who triggered the current investigation. The truth, a rare commodity in the current administration, is irrelevant.
Some Republican lawmakers want to out the whistleblower and are eagerly distributing articles from conservative media outlets that assert theories about the person’s identity. Trump and his allies have continued to question the individual’s motives and suggested he’s part of a partisan effort to topple the Trump presidency.
Trump, never one to ruin a good story by checking the facts, has promoted speculation in some conservative media outlets that the whistleblower is a CIA agent who has worked with senior national security officials from the Obama administration, proof of his bias against the president.
Attorneys for the whistleblower, who fear for his safety if he is identified, reject the idea that he testify before the House Judiciary Committee, and instead submit written answers to questions. “Being a whistle-blower is not a partisan job nor is impeachment an objective. This is not our role,” tweeted Mark Zaid, the person’s attorney. Zaid said his client would answer questions directly from Republican members “in writing, under oath and penalty of perjury.”
That’s not good enough for Trump. “He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Trump tweeted, slamming the entire process as a “Con!” Of course, it was OK for Trump to refuse to provide anything but written answers to questions negotiated by his lawyers during Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 campaign.
U.S. whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Lawmakers in both parties have historically backed those protections.
The whistleblower is apparently a career government employee who would probably like to work long enough to collect a pension. If he is ever outed, his life — and that of his family — will likely become a living hell. Given Trump’s treatment of some of our most respected military leaders and public figures, you can bet he wouldn’t spare the author of the complaint.
The president has already called one person who testified before the Judiciary Committee a “never Trumper” and another a member of the “deep state.” By Trump’s standards, anybody who challenges him is a partisan hack.
You can just imagine what the likes of Alex Jones and Breitbart News would do to this poor man and his family. Given some of Trump’s more rabid supporters, threats of violence will follow and might even become a reality. Exposing this person will discourage future whistleblowers from coming forward.
What’s missing here — and I’m sure it’s intentional on the part of Trump’s enablers — is that the accuracy rather than the intent of the whistleblower’s complaint is what really matters. As the inspector general who accepted the complaint pointed out, the person could have an “arguable political bias,” but he nevertheless found the whistleblower’s complaint to be “credible.”
The reality is that people often blow the whistle on questionable activities for less than honorable reasons. As any veteran political reporter in Sacramento or Washington could tell you, they regularly get tips about wrongdoing from people who want to torpedo legislation, kill a regulatory ruling, or strike back at a political opponent.
Reporters know these people aren’t lobbying for sainthood, so they ask themselves the obvious question: Is there any truth to this? If the answer is “yes,” it may be the beginning of a story.
Perhaps the best known whistleblower of modern times was Mark Felt, the mysterious deep throat of Watergate fame. When his identity was finally revealed, many praised him for his courage and respect for the law. But Felt’s motive was far less than noble: The number two guy at the FBI, Felt became resentful when Richard Nixon didn’t pick him for the top job, and got his revenge by talking to two Washington Post reporters.
Whatever the motive of the Ukraine whistleblower, his second-hand assertions have been backed up by witnesses with first-hand knowledge of what happened, and public records. Even Gordon Sondland, who got to become the U.S. ambassador to the European Union by donating $1 million to Trump’s presidential campaign, conceded in updated testimony that there was a quid pro quo when it came to aid for Ukraine.
Sondland said he couldn’t recall such conversations during his original testimony. He now says his memory was “refreshed” by testimony from others that placed him at the center of the controversy. More than likely, his lawyers told him he would face criminal charges if he didn’t correct the record.
Sondland becomes the fourth witness to describe the quid pro quo, remarkable considering Trump’s oft-repeated claim that his phone call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect” and that no such arrangement existed. What could have given those people the idea that Trump expected something in return for U.S. aid to Ukraine?
As the evidence piles up, his enablers are running out of explanations for Trump’s behavior. Rep. Mark Meadows suggested the president’s bag man, Rudy Giuliani, was acting as a rogue agent, and Sen. Lindsey Graham said the administration is too inept to organize a quid pro quo.
Trump and his enablers will continue to denigrate those who testify and crucify the whistleblower when — probably not if — he is identified. Anything to deny the truth and confuse the narrative. The truth probably won’t get Trump impeached, but it will put another nail in his reelection coffin.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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