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It doesn’t matter who the Trump whistleblower is

Even if you believe he was biased, the impeachment inquiry no longer depends on anything the whistleblower wrote or whistled.

Minority legal counsel Steve Castor, left, speaking with Republican Rep. Jim Jordan
Minority legal counsel Steve Castor, left, speaking with Republican Rep. Jim Jordan during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday.
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS

Why are Republicans wasting their fire on the demand that the whistleblower be outed?

As a technical matter, it would be an overstatement to say that the “whistleblower” who first brought to the public secondhand evidence that President Donald Trump was pressuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens if he wanted to get frozen military assistance unfrozen, is entitled to have his anonymity respected. But not much of an overstatement.

According to this New York Times explainer, the Inspector General Act says that agency watchdogs “shall not, after receipt of a complaint or information from an employee, disclose the identity of the employee without the consent of the employee, unless the inspector general determines such disclosure is unavoidable.”

Some Trump loyalists reportedly think they know the identity. The POTUS himself seems to think he knows, and knows that the whistleblower is a “never Trumper,” which he seems to think proves that any information coming from such sub-humans is tainted and should be ignored.

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For reasons that are both obvious and a little sickening, Republicans spent much of their early fire during Wednesday’s first day of impeachment hearings on demanding that the whistleblower be identified and produced for questioning. Why?

On a substantive basis, it seems unnecessary. The whistleblower didn’t claim to have direct personal knowledge of the information he brought to light. He was passing along second-hand accounts that had reached him and which suggested that Trump was tying the release of stalled military aid to Ukraine to Zelenskiy investigating Hunter Biden and publicly announcing such an investigation. (If there’s one thing Trump can’t abide, it’s anyone seeking to benefit from family connections.)

The whistleblower’s identity, and his or her politics, seem fundamentally irrelevant. Even if you believe he was biased, the impeachment inquiry no longer depends on anything the whistleblower wrote or whistled. Many witnesses, with more direct knowledge of the underlying facts, have been identified. Two of them testified Wednesday. More will testify today (former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch) and next week. She, and those who follow, will be asked about things they know first-hand.

Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff made clear that outing the whistle-blower was unnecessary and he would not participate in it. Republicans on the committee made clear that they want him outed. And they may yet find a way to do so.

But the facts of the case will be brought to light through the testimony of named witnesses who have direct knowledge. Identifying the whistleblower might be fun for Trump and his supporters, but, even if the whistleblower was an axe-murderer or, even worse, a never-Trumper, that has nothing to do with the facts of the case and is a pitifully transparent effort to distract from those facts, which will be laid out by witnesses with more direct knowledge.

(After I wrote the above, I read news that U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who might be called an “always Trumper,” claimed to know that the whistleblower was Alex Soros, son of billionaire George Soros. King tweeted out four pictures of the younger Soros, posing with four prominent Democrats — Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren — which in some bizarre world apparently implied that this was evidence that Soros was the whistleblower. He has since deleted the tweet, but you can see the photos, which have no discernible connection to Ukraine or the whistleblower issue, here.)

How pitiful is this?

If you follow the public discussion of this bring-forth-the-whistleblower campaign, you will hear Trumpists claim that, without access to the whistleblower, Trump is being denied his fundamental “right to confront his accuser.”

This is nonsense. For starters, nothing the whistleblower said is being used as evidence. The whistleblower is more like the confidential informant who told the cops that he heard about who might’ve robbed the bank. It’s not evidence, unless the prosecutor puts that guy on the stand.

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The right to confront your accuser pertains to a person, on trial for a crime, to be in court and hear the prosecution witnesses testify against him, and to cross-examine them (or have his lawyers do so).

Those rules don’t literally apply to an impeachment case. But even if they did, the trial, if one occurs, will be in the Senate, where Trump can presumably attend if he wants, confront his “accusers,” and will be represented by Senate Republicans committed to ensuring he gets due process.

One thing I can pretty much guarantee: The “leaker” will not be on the Senate floor to serve as Trump’s “accuser.” But if he is there, and Trump wants to confront him, that will shed little or no light on the question before the “court.”

The question is: Did President Donald Trump withhold urgently needed military aid to an ally, Ukraine, fighting against Russian invasion and occupation, and did Trump imply that he might be willing to release said aid if Ukraine did him a favor by investigating (and publicly announced that it was investigating) allegations of corruption against the Bidens?

It seems an important question. More important than the question of who leaked secondhand information that causes us to ask the more important question above. But, of course, anyone who thinks that must be a never-Trumper, so never mind.