WASHINGTON – Reports that a member of the intelligence community has come forward to express concern about a phone call President Donald Trump made to a foreign leader has generated a media frenzy.
Who is the whistleblower? What did he or she say? Will that information be made public?
While those questions generate headlines they overlook the difficulties many whistleblowers face after they come forward with inside information.
So what is it like to be a whistleblower?
“Whistleblowing in government is, unfortunately, a risky endeavor,” national security attorney Sean Bigley told TMN.
He added: “There are laws in place to protect whistleblowers against recriminations, but the laws are weak and the process of investigation and enforcement can take years. During that time, a whistleblower’s life is often upended. He or she can face a litany of consequences, including unpaid leave, loss of security clearance, and termination.”
“Many are branded as trouble-makers or mentally unstable-which makes finding other work in government difficult. If reprisal is ultimately proven, there are mechanisms in place to recover damages. But by that time, even a substantial award of damages may not be enough to compensate the whistleblower for the emotional toll that has been extracted from them over the preceding years,” Bigley added.
Tom Devine is Legal Director at the Government Accountability Project and has assisted thousands of whistleblowers. He said despite legal protections for whistleblowers they are unlikely to have productive careers in government after they come forward.
“The problem is whether you win or lose the official lawsuit you’re a marked person and you’ve identified yourself as someone who can’t be trusted to keep the agency’s dirty laundry secret from the public.”
Devine added: “And that means you’re dangerous. And as long as you’re dangerous you can’t turn your back, you’re a marked person. And it’s never the same for a whistleblower after making that decision.”
The complaint reportedly involves a conversation Trump had with then-newly-elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenksy on Jul 25.
Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson gave private testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week. Atkinson did not relay the contents of the complaint but said it is a matter of “urgent concern” according to the Washington Post. Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire is scheduled to testify before the committee in open session on Thursday.
Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) spoke with reporters after Atkinson met with the committee. He said the whistleblower wants to share the complaint with Congress but Maguire has prohibited such disclosure. Schiff said if necessary the committee will pursue legal action to obtain the complaint.
The Post and CNN have reported that the White House and Justice Department told DNI not to share the complaint with Congress.
Earlier this month, Schiff, along with Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote the White House and State Department to request records related to reports that said Trump and White House attorney Rudy Giuliani asked the Ukrainian government to investigate the business dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Biden is the Democratic frontrunner in the 2020 presidential race.
In their letter, the chairmen referenced reports that said Trump threatened to block $250 million in aid to Ukraine. The funds have since been released.
Giuliani has denied asking Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son.
Trump told reporters Sunday that he and Zelensky discussed Biden during their phone conversation but reiterated that he did not do anything improper. Trump said Monday that he would consider releasing a transcript of the call.