The impeachment inquiry against President Trump by the United States House of Representatives is continuing with public hearings scheduled to start today.
Although opinions differ on what the facts are and how this will all turn out, there is one fact that is indisputable — this was all started because an intelligence community employee reported activities involving President Trump to a governmental authority that they believed were illegal. This person has been characterized as a “whistleblower.”
In case anyone is wondering, this term dates back to the 19th century when police authorities used a whistle as a warning of bad or dangerous situations.
Today it describes a person who reports alleged illegal activity to either public or private authorities.
There are over 50 whistleblower laws at the federal and state levels with all providing that informers are immune from retaliation for supplying information and most allowing the person to remain anonymous.
A question has now arisen as to whether the whistleblower’s identity can legally be disclosed so that they can be questioned.
In this case the information was given under the federal Intelligence Community Protection Act of 1998 to the United States Inspector General (IG), who is responsible for overseeing the performance of federal intelligence agencies.
The Act provides that the IG is not to release the name but is silent as to disclosure by others who may learn it such as members of Congress, the president, or the media.
What’s the answer?
For now there isn’t a definitive one, however National Public Radio recently interviewed four former top federal officials who all said that because of the way this statute and others are written, disclosure wouldn’t be a crime. Opinions varied on other possible civil consequences depending on who makes the disclosure.
Other experts have indicated that disclosure by anyone is not legally allowed because this in itself is a form of retaliation, which the statute prohibits.
Some interesting side notes are that the statute puts the president, who has called for disclosure, in charge of enforcing it and there is now a second whistleblower.
I am certain that in the coming days there will be many further developments including the possibility that the courts will be asked to answer this question.