President Donald Trump is currently facing the prospect of becoming the third U.S. president to be impeached after a whistleblower sounded the alarm about his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The whistleblower raised concerns about Trump’s focus on current Democratic presidential front-runner and Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s business relationship with Burisma Holdings, a company that was being investigated by a Ukrainian prosecutor who was ultimately fired at the former vice president’s behest. (RELATED: Ilhan Omar Says Joe Biden Is Not The Candidate To ‘Tackle A Lot Of Systemic Challenges’)
Democrats have been adamant about protecting the identity of the whistleblower. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff threatened his Republican colleagues with an ethics probe if they publicly say the whistleblower’s name. Democrats and some reporters have claimed that the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 gives the whistleblower the privilege of anonymity, even as his allegations are being used as the smoking gun to impeach a president. (RELATED: Trump Calls On Adam Schiff To Resign After Fabricated Transcript Reading)
But, what rights does the Whistleblower Protection Act really give the whistleblower?
The Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits federal agencies from taking retaliatory action against any employee who files a complaint, such as a firing or a demotion.
The text of the Whistleblower Protection Act states:
“The purpose of this Act is to strengthen and improve protection for the rights of Federal employees, to prevent reprisals, and to help eliminate wrongdoing within the Government.”
In other words, the law exists, as written, to prohibit specific federal agencies from using their powers to intimidate whistleblowers, to fire them, or to make any sort of “reprisal” against them for filing a complaint related to wrongdoing or lawbreaking occurring within those agencies. Some liberals have taken an overly broad view of the Whistleblower Protection Act, arguing that it establishes a whistleblower’s right to remain anonymous. (RELATED: MSNBC Cuts Off Jim Jordan Just As He Starts To Talk About The Whistleblower)
Former prosecutor and co-host of “The View” Sunny Hostin falsely told Donald Trump Jr. last week that he may have committed a federal crime by outing the whistleblower. Hostin cited U.S. Code Section 1505 to make her case that the president’s son committed a crime by tweeting the name of the alleged whistleblower.
This section says that, “whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law” involving a government agency could face up to five years in prison, but applying this section to include private citizens who say the name of the whistleblower is considered a stretch by legal experts.
Dan Meyer, former executive director of the intelligence community whistleblower program, told NPR last week that the whistleblower’s identity is not protected by federal law.
“There is no overarching protection for the identity of the whistleblower under federal law,” Meyer said. “Congress has never provided that protection.”
In fact, some Republicans have argued that the president has the right to face his accuser, and House Intelligence Committee member Jim Jordan of Ohio has said that Republicans plan to subpoena the whistleblower to testify both privately and publicly. Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has argued that the Sixth Amendment allows Trump to face his accuser, and said that the media is only adamant about protecting the whistleblower’s identity because they hate the president.
Then there’s also the fact that much of the Whistleblower Protection Act does not extend to members of the intelligence community, because they handle classified information. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 outlined the process that whistleblowers within the intelligence community have to go to through in order to file a complaint. It gives intelligence community members the right to take their complaints to the House or Senate Intelligence Committee, which this whistleblower reportedly did when he reached out to a House Intelligence aide before filing the complaint.
Still, the whistleblower’s lawyers have argued that individuals who name the whistleblower could be held liable for any harm that comes to the whistleblower, and issued stern warnings to media outlets covering the biggest story in politics.
“Any physical harm the individual and/or their family suffers as a result of disclosure means that the individuals and publications reporting such names will be personally liable for that harm,” attorney’s Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid said in a statement Oct. 31. “Members of the media have a similar role in protecting those who lawfully expose suspected government wrongdoing,”
Even if the law is not on Bakaj and Zaid’s side, however, much of the media seems to be heeding their warnings anyway.
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet has suggested that his outlet has the name of the whistleblower, but said that he does not “see the point of unmasking someone who wants to remain anonymous.”
Most cable news outlets have also banned the alleged whistleblower’s names from their airwaves. Even as the whistleblower’s identity continues to remain hidden, they are allegedly raising money through a GoFundMe account, which might violate a federal law that prevents government employees from soliciting donations based on their position, according to another complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general. Then, there’s also the questions that surround the political motivations of the whistleblower, relating to his reported ties to Biden House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. (RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About Alexander Vindman, The Ukraine-Born Army Officer At The Center Of The Impeachment Probe)
As the impeachment probe kicks into high gear, Republicans will continue to argue that they have a right to question the man whose complaint is being used to impeach a president, while Democrats will continue to protect the whistleblower at all costs.
Regardless of how the impeachment proceedings play out, it’s unlikely that the whistleblower will be able to rely on the Whistleblower Protection Act to remain anonymous.