Defending Rights & Dissent: Congress Must Protect Whistleblowers

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Too often when people stand up to expose the abuses of the powerful, it is the truth teller who pays the price. 

Since the House of Representatives has begun an impeachment inquiry in response to a whistleblower complaint, President Trump has vilified and attacked the anonymous whistleblower.  Trump has demanded to know their identity and degraded them as a “fake whistleblower” or “so called whistleblower.” The Intelligence Community Inspector General has, on the other hand, labeled the complaint “credible.”

Trump’s attacks have extended beyond the whistleblower to include the individuals who gave them the information that formed the basis of their complaint. Trump has compared these actions with being a spy or treason, implying that in the past such people would have faced the death penalty.

Such comments are reprehensible and clearly designed to intimidate not only the current whistleblower, but anyone else who might come forward with information. 

We are thankful that a bipartisan range of lawmakers has called for the whistleblower to be protected. However, we note that not all of these members have been friends of whistleblowers in the past. 

We reject any dichotomy between good and bad whistleblowers. While the whistleblower in question did go through official channels and the process appears to be working, for the time being at least. But such channels are not always available. Whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, John Kirakou, Reality Winner, Terry Albury, and Daniel Hale are just as much worthy of admiration and protection. And they have paid a heavy price for exposing war crimes, mass surveillance, other unlawful activity and abuses. Whereas Trump has compared individuals to spies, these whistleblowers were all actually indicted under the Espionage Act. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee handling the impeachment inquiry is new to defending whistleblowers. He cast a very different tone when talking about Snowden. Similar to Trump now, he impugned Snowden as not being a real whistleblower. Not only did he support the espionage charges against Snowden, but warned Russia that granting Snowden asylum would harm US-Russian relations, and signed onto a letter to then-President Obama preemptively opposing a pardon of Snowden. 

Congress must make sure the whistleblower is protected. Credible allegations require serious inquiries. This is even more so when the allegations involve potential abuses of power or undemocratic behavior.