On Monday night at a campaign rally in Kentucky, home state Sen. Rand Paul stood beside Donald Trump and urged the media to out the whistleblower who lodged a formal complaint against the President for conducting a pressure campaign against Ukraine.
“We also now know the name of the whistleblower. The whistleblower needs to come forward as a material witness because he worked for Joe Biden at the same time Hunter Biden was getting money from corrupt oligarchs. 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!'”
Paul’s pledge echoes Trump’s attempts over the weekend to simultaneously discredit and out the whistleblower. “The Whistleblower gave false information & dealt with corrupt politician Schiff,” Trump tweeted Monday. “He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable! Where is the 2nd Whistleblower? He disappeared after I released the transcript. Does he even exist? Where is the informant? Con!”
While that sort of rhetoric might make for a good applause line at a rally, it reveals a total and complete misunderstanding of how whistleblowing works. (It’s not clear to me whether this misunderstanding is willful or accidental.)
What Trump and Paul are trying to do is put the whistleblower at the end of this process. Unless the whistleblower reveals him or herself, how we can trust that anything he or she says is right? We have to know who this person is to judge whether they are some bitter Democrats or loser Never Trumper!
That’s not what a whistleblower is or what they do. Whistleblowers are the start of a process, not the end of it. And they are rarely the centerpiece of the process.
Here’s how things typically work as explained to me recently by National Whistleblowers Center head John Kostyack: A whistleblower comes forward and files a formal complaint. The allegations made in that complaint serve as a starting point for the investigating agency — whether that the Securities and Exchanges Committee or, in this case, Congress.
The task of the investigators then is to run down and prove (or disprove) what’s in the whistleblower’s complaint. Which is what House investigators have been doing for the last few weeks — bringing in everyone from US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland to Kurt Volker, the former US special envoy to Ukraine, to get their accounts of what happened on not only on that fateful July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky but also the events of the days and week leading up to and following it.
To date, the reports (and transcripts) of those interviews have backed up the redacted whistleblower complaint released last month. And the rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call, released last month by the White House. Now the investigation is moving into a more public phase with the regular release of transcripts from the closed-door interviews and a move to open interviews.
Fixating on the whistleblower in all of this, then, is missing the forest for the trees. If the only thing we had as evidence of possible wrongdoing by Trump in regard to Ukraine was the whistleblower complaint — or even the whistleblower him or herself — that would almost certainly be insufficient to prove much of anything. After all, the complaint acknowledges that the whistleblower wasn’t on the actual call and heard much of the most concerning information second-hand.
But thanks to House investigators following the proper procedure, we now know much more than that. In the case of the July call, we have National Security Council Ukraine specialist Alexander Vindman, who was on the call, telling Congress that he thought it was inappropriate and immediately went to his supervisors to say so.
What Vindman told Congress supersedes — but also affirms — what the whistleblower told Congress. Vindman was on the call. And like the whistleblower, he was concerned enough about how Trump acted to do something about it. At this point, the whistleblower’s account of the call is unnecessary because we know from someone on the call how it came off (at least to him).
It’s not hard to see what Trump and Paul are doing here — whether purposely or out of ignorance of how whistleblowers work. They are setting up a red herring: If the whistleblower doesn’t come forward (and there are legal protections in place to make sure the whistleblower preserves their anonymity) then it’s a sign that they never existed in the first place or is someone with a clear vendetta against Trump.
To which I say: Doesn’t matter! Facts are facts. Either Trump and his administration said and did these things in regard to Ukraine and the possibility of investigating former vice president Joe Biden or they didn’t. Who the whistleblower is matters very little at this point.