In a continuing failure to respect the spirit and letter of the whistle-blower law, President Donald Trump said on Monday that he was “trying to find out” the identity of the whistle-blower who accused him of using military aid to pressure a foreign government to investigate his political rival. Once again, there is no need for such a highly inappropriate effort. This is part of an impeachment inquiry, and the witness is likely to appear before Congress. However, the whistle-blower law — and good policy — protects the identity of such staff members. Trump previously had compared the whistle-blower to a spy — an accusation that was clearly threatening and improper.
Once again, this is only magnifying the impeachment risk for Trump. It is also wrong both legally and ethically. One may disagree with the whistle-blower, and one can investigate any political bias as part of the impeachment process. However, even Trump’s Director of National Intelligence said that the staffer did the right thing in filing the complaint. He also said that his identity is protected.
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 was created to protect federal workers from precisely this type of harassment or threat. 5 U.S.C. § 2302 (b)(8)-(9) prohibits “a personnel action” against an employee who makes “any disclosure of information” which the employee “reasonably believes” to show “any violation of any law, rule, or regulation.” That includes a prohibition of any form of retaliation for the “the exercise of any appeal, complaint, or grievance right granted by any law, rule, or regulation,” including “cooperating with or disclosing information to the Inspector General.”
As with the Special Counsel investigation, Trump is magnifying the risks and prolonging the process with these statements and actions. It is possible to counterpunch yourself into an impeachment and even into removal from office if you try hard enough.