Why the media shouldn’t bow to Rand Paul on the whistleblower

Rand Paul left no doubt where he stands on the mystery surrounding the whistleblower, with President Trump looking on approvingly.

At a rally Monday night in Lexington, the Kentucky senator thundered: “I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name!”

Senator, that’s not our job.

It’s not the responsibility of the press to out a federal official who followed all the rules in coming forward—or to do your dirty work.

The crowd loved it, however, chanting “do your job!” And the president approved of what his 2016 rival did: “Wow, that was excellent. He’s a warrior. I’ve always said it.”

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So why doesn’t Paul reveal the name himself, if he thinks he knows the identity of the intelligence analyst whose complaint prompted the Ukraine inquiry and the House impeachment investigation? It’s not illegal for a lawmaker to disclose such a person’s identity, as long as he’s not a covert agent.

The answer, it seems to me, is that Paul would face tremendous blowback for doing so. Much better to pressure the press into taking that controversial step.

Actually, the whistleblower was partially outed by the New York Times, which described him as a CIA officer who had been assigned to the White House. I thought at the time that this sufficiently narrowed the circle of suspects that it was only a matter of time before the name leaked out.

One of the whistleblower’s lawyers, Mark Zaid, responded to Paul by telling the Washington Post: “A member of Congress who calls for the identity of any lawful whistleblower to be publicly revealed against their wishes disgraces the office they hold and betrays the interests of the Constitution and the American people.”

House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff has grown increasingly concerned about the protecting the man who filed the complaint about Trump’s July call with Ukraine’s leader, and is floating having him respond to written questions.

The president dismissed the idea with this taunting tweet: “The Whistleblower gave false information & dealt with corrupt politician Schiff. He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!”

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It took critics about two seconds to observe the irony, since Trump ultimately refused to sit down with the Mueller prosecutors and provided written answers instead.

Paul also demanded that Joe Biden’s son, who was the focus of Trump’s efforts to prod Ukraine into an investigation, be called before the impeachment hearings. “If Shifty Schiff will not let Hunter Biden come, and if he will not bring the whistleblower forward, every Republican in Congress should take a walk and say this is a farce,” he said.

In political terms, it’s not hard to understand why Republicans want to make the unknown complainant an issue. He told the inspector general when he came forward that he had a previous professional relationship with a 2020 Democrat (probably Biden), and their goal is to paint him as a biased hack.

But as a matter of substance, the whistleblower is largely irrelevant. He admitted in his complaint that he had no first-hand knowledge of the Trump call, but was reflecting concerns of other White House officials.

Several other current and former officials with direct knowledge have essentially confirmed the whistleblower’s account and portrayed a larger effort by the Trump administration to use a presidential meeting as leverage in exchange for a Ukrainian probe of the Bidens and of 2016 election meddling. In fact, Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland said in new testimony released yesterday that he had told a top Ukrainian official “that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

Paul, the most prominent libertarian in Washington, drew some flak from Reason magazine, long a voice of libertarian ideas:

“Paul's enthusiastic and near perpetual support for Trump actions continues to bum out many libertarians—who had hoped Rand would turn out more like his father, former Rep. Ron Paul—and limited-government conservatives, for whom the Kentucky senator was a bright spot back when the Tea Party movement showed promise and principles.”

On his prime-time Fox show, Sean Hannity said: “I actually have multiple confirmations of who the whistleblower is, but you know what? I’ll play the game for a little bit and I’ll take the lawyers’ threats that they’re going to sue me. Wouldn’t go anywhere.”

The Post reported that Republican lawmakers at the closed-door hearings have asked questions about the whistleblower that “have been interpreted as an attempt ‘to unmask the whistleblower,’” according to “several officials with direct knowledge of the depositions.” One GOP aide told the paper this was “a legitimate line of questioning” for the whistle-blower and others, “as their political preferences could taint testimony and findings.”

I don’t know if the man’s identity is an open secret at this point. I do think that publishing his name would send a chilling message to those who might blow the whistle on future wrongdoing—in Democratic administrations as well—that their anonymity may not be protected.