Whistle-blower offers to speak to Republicans as Trump pushes to unmask identity

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC before his departure to New York on Nov 2, 2019.
US President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC before his departure to New York on Nov 2, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US official whose whistle-blower complaint led to the impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump offered to communicate directly with Republicans on the intelligence committee leading the inquiry, his lawyers said on Sunday (Nov 3).

The action was in response to Republican efforts, led by Trump, to unmask the whistle-blower, a member of the US intelligence community whose identity has not been released, lawyer Mark Zaid said.

Republicans have “sought to expose our client’s identity which could jeopardize their safety, as well as that of their family,” Zaid wrote on Twitter.

News of the offer came as Trump called on the whistle-blower to come forward, in a stark departure from norms in such cases.

“The whistle-blower should be revealed, because the whistle-blower gave a false story,” Trump said on the White House lawn Sunday, while calling him an “Obama guy” and a “fraud”.

Republicans have complained that the impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led House of Representatives has been unfair to them and to Trump, and that they have been restricted in their questioning of witnesses. The inquiry has followed established House rules.

Trump is under increasing pressure as the House of Representatives forges ahead with its investigation of whether Trump solicited help from Ukraine as he seeks re-election next year. Leaders of the Democratic-controlled House expect to begin public hearings in the next few weeks.

The inquiry was launched on Sept 24 after a whistle-blower complaint from the unidentified US intelligence official who was concerned that the president’s actions on Ukraine were illegal and jeopardised national security.

As the inquiry enters its sixth week, however, the whistle-blower’s testimony, based on second-hand information provided by other US officials, is not likely to be the most important.

Lawmakers leading the inquiry have since heard first-hand accounts from US officials including former National Security Council member Alexander Vindman that describe Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as accusations he used US$391 million in US aid as leverage.

A White House summary of a phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky showed Trump asking his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens.

Adam Schiff, the Democratic Intelligence Committee chairman, said last month that the whistle-blower’s testimony might not be necessary.

The whistle-blower initially offered to answer questions in writing if submitted by the House Intelligence Committee as a whole.

Zaid said the new offer, made on Saturday to top intelligence panel Republican Devin Nunes, reflected the client’s desire to have the complaint handled in a nonpartisan way.

“Let me be absolutely clear: Our willingness to cooperate has not changed. What we object to and find offensive, however, is the effort to uncover the identity of the whistle-blower,” added Andrew Bakaj, another of the whistle-blower’s lawyers.

Nunes’ office did not return a request for comment.

Longstanding Intelligence Committee policy is to protect whistle-blowers’ anonymity.

Trump has repeatedly lashed out at the whistle-blower and called for his identity to be made public. He denies any impropriety and says the impeachment is politically motivated.

"The Whistleblower got it sooo wrong that HE must come forward. The Fake News Media knows who he is but, being an arm of the Democrat Party, don't want to reveal him because there would be hell to pay. Reveal the Whistleblower and end the Impeachment Hoax!" Trump said in a Twitter post on Sunday.