The Republican response to the Ukraine scandal has been to attack the credibility of the whistleblower. This is pretty tricky since the whistleblower’s identity is not yet known. This hasn’t stopped a flood of speculation and misinformation about the complaint.
To start with, there is speculation that the whistleblower
is a partisan Democrat. A Republican congressional source told
Erick Erickson last week that the complaint was “written by someone who
does not like the President” but also that “regardless, the whistleblower is
That the whistleblower is not a fan of Trump should be
obvious. It is unlikely that a committed Trump supporter would have filed a complaint
about the president’s activities. Anyone moved to file the complaint would not
be a Trump fan by definition, although it’s possible that the whistleblower
didn’t start out as a Trump critic. He or she might have been a Trump supporter
at one time but then been disillusioned by the president’s activities.
Other Trump defenders have argued that the whistleblower
complaint was too professional and detailed to have been put together by one
person. Again, this is possible since the whistleblower cites a number of other
US officials in the complaint. It is not outside the scope of possibility that
that more than one person may have collaborated on the complaint, but this does
not undermine its credibility. The whistleblower openly acknowledges that his
information came from other people in the Administration.
A third argument is that first-hand information should be required
for whistleblower complaints and that hearsay was not allowed in the past. Julian
Sanchez of the Cato Institute pointed out in a tweet
thread that these claims are false, noting that “nothing in the relevant
statute (ICWPA [Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act]) or
directives (PPD-19, ICD-120) has ever required that protected whistleblower
disclosures contain ‘firsthand’ information.”
Much has been made of a Federalist article alleging that the whistleblower reporting form was changed just prior to
the submission of the complaint to allow secondhand information. In reality,
secondhand information was always allowed but firsthand information could file
a complaint directly with the IG.
The old form stated, “In order to find an urgent concern ‘credible,’
the IC IG must be in possession of reliable firsthand information. The IC IG
cannot transmit information via the ICWPA based on an employee’s secondhand
knowledge of wrongdoing.”
As Sanchez points out, this does not mean that secondhand
complaints are not allowed but that they must be verified prior to being passed
up the chain of command. In his letter to Acting DNI Joseph Maguire, Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community
inspector general, said that the “complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears
credible.’” The letter further stated that even “arguable political bias on the
part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate… did not change
my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears
credible” particularly given the other information the ICIG obtained during its
In the days since the existence of the complaint was made public,
even President Trump and Rudy Giuliani have corroborated some of the allegations.
The most damaging allegation, that the president pressured the Ukrainian president
to investigate Joe Biden’s connections to the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor,
has been confirmed by both President Trump and Mr. Giuliani as well as the
transcript of the telephone call between the two presidents.
While on the subject of Biden, there is no evidence that the
former vice president did anything wrong. As Erickson
wrote last week, Biden “was not in Ukraine making his own threat nor did he
have the power to make a threat of withholding a billion dollars in foreign
aid. Instead, Biden was operating under the power of and with the permission of
the President of the United States, Barack Obama.”
An additional point of concern among Trump’s defenders is
that the intelligence community is out to get Donald Trump. As part of the Deep
State, they argue, the nation’s intelligence agencies are rife with fifth
columnists who will stop at nothing to get Donald Trump. The problem with this
argument is that government officials take their oaths to defend the Constitution,
not the president. If the president breaks the law then they have a duty to
call him out.
And the president apparently did break the law. In a tweet from
June, long before the whistleblower scandal broke, Ellen Weintraub, chair of
the Federal Election Commission, released a statement that said, “It is illegal
for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign
national in connection with a US election.” Damaging information about a
candidate that the president may well face in the general election is
definitely of high value.
“I would not have thought that I needed to say this,”
In another tweet thread on Friday, Weintraub, who is a
Democrat, said that she published a ““Draft Interpretive Rule Concerning
Prohibited Activities Involving Foreign Nationals” on the FEC website.
Weintraub claimed that “GOP FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter took the
altogether unprecedented step of objecting to its being added to the [weekly
FEC] Digest and blocked publication of the whole Digest as a result.”
Finally, the Reagan Battalion on Twitter published a letter that
Democratic Senators Robert Menendez, Dick Durbin, and Patrick Leahy sent to
Ukrainian General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko in May 2018. The letter asks
Lutsenko to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The
allegation is that “asking the Ukrainian government to assist in investigating
Trump” is “is exactly what Democrats are accusing Trump of doing.” The obvious
difference is that Mueller was a federal law enforcement official charged by the
Department of Justice with investigating Russian interference in the election
while Donald Trump asked the Ukrainians to cooperate with an off-the-books
investigation by his personal attorney.
In any event, the law is an objective standard. Saying “what about the Democrats,” would not excuse President Trump’s behavior even if it was an exactly reciprocal action. At best, it would show that both sides were corrupt, but, as your parents probably told you, two wrongs don’t make a right. To put it another way, you can’t get out of a speeding ticket by saying everyone else was driving just as fast.
The bottom line is that the attacks on the whistleblower
have not undermined the underlying facts of the case. There is no evidence that
the procedures or forms were changed to allow the whistleblower to come
forward. Instead what we find is that the whistleblower went to great lengths
to comply with applicable laws and present a well-documented case through
appropriate channels, rather than leaking to the media. This is exactly what
someone who learned that illegal activity was taking place should have done.
The key point for the coming weeks is not whether the whistleblower
had an axe to grind or was part of an organized effort. The focus should be on
whether the whistleblower’s allegations were factual or not. So far, several
parts of the whistleblower account, which has already been found credible by
the inspector general, have already been verified by other sources. Perhaps
that’s why the Trump Administration is attempting to steer the discussion away
from the facts.