Whistleblower: Hero or traitor?
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3
On Aug. 12, 2019, a government whistleblower filed a complaint, addressed to the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees, saying, “In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election” (FactCheck.org, Sept. 27, 2019).
The whistleblower was referring to a July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, as well as several trips by Trump emissaries, asking Ukrainian officials to find dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. These actions violate the law and the whistleblower believed this should be investigated.
On Aug. 26, the Inspector General for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, told acting director of National Intelligence Michael Maguire that the complaint was “urgent” and “credible.” These are legal terms meaning the complaint should be investigated quickly. By law, Maguire was required to forward the complaint to the proper committee chairmen.
Everything was done exactly as the law requires.
On Sept. 18, Trump called all this “fake news.” He then began attacking the investigating committees and the whistleblower, using the terms “spy” and “treason.”
“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now” (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 26, 2019).
Trump was referring to execution, the penalty for treason (18 U.S. Code 2381). In Trump’s mind, anyone who defies him is a traitor and apparently should die.
The first Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1777. Several whistleblower protection laws have been passed since then. Our founders knew that corruption could happen, and they wanted to make sure people reporting the corruption were protected. If the claims were false, that ended the complaint. If they were true, then further steps would be taken. But the person making the claim was not to be punished since that would allow corruption to flourish. Trump wants to violate this 242-year-old practice for his own purposes.
On March 26, 2012, President Barack Obama was caught on an open mic, saying to Russian President Medvedev (not Putin) that he, Obama, would have “more flexibility” after the election. Republicans went berserk, claiming Obama was plotting some dastardly deed, which never materialized.
Now we have a president who meets with Russian President Putin for hours, in private, with no Americans in the room, not even an American translator. He keeps no records of these meetings or what is said. We have no idea what Putin demands of Trump or what Trump promises Putin.
This breaks all kinds of American laws regarding official meetings, records, etc. Republicans don’t seem to care that Trump behaves like a tin-pot dictator or that he is using the power and purse of the United States to advance his own political career.
Because of this, Trump believes he can get away with anything. Now we have a whistleblower complaint, verified by evidence, that shows how far Trump will go to maintain power, no matter how much it violates American values or national security.
Republicans whine that the complaint is based on hearsay, proving they know nothing about the law. A complaint is the first step in an investigation. Investigators then go through the complaint and gather actual evidence. That evidence is the basis of any action, not the complaint itself. The character of the whistleblower or how the information in the complaint was obtained is irrelevant. What counts is the evidence gathered.
Both the whistleblower and the Democrats are acting in full compliance with the law. More whistleblowers are now coming forward. Perhaps this is what confuses Trump. He’s always believed he is above the law. Now that he’s being held accountable, he doesn’t know how to respond.
Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg helped end the Vietnam War. Whistleblower Mark Felt (Deep Throat) exposed the Watergate corruption. Not every whistleblower is a hero, but the founders knew that patriots had to be protected when they exposed wrongdoing damaging our democracy. It’s tragic that Trump doesn’t understand that.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com.