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Democratic Leaders Vow To Protect Whistleblower In Impeachment Inquiry


President Trump and some Republicans in Congress are demanding to know the identity of the whistleblower whose report helped start an impeachment inquiry into the president. Here's what Trump said Monday to reporters in the Oval Office.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, we're trying to find out about a whistleblower. When you have a whistleblower that reports things that were incorrect, as you know - and you probably now have figured it out - the statement I made to the president of Ukraine, a good man, a nice man, knew was perfect. It was perfect. But the whistleblower reported a totally different statement.

KING: So in the meantime, Democratic leaders and the acting director of national intelligence are promising to protect the whistleblower. But doing that in a high-profile case like this could be really difficult. NPR's Sarah McCammon has the story.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Allison Murphy knows what it's like to have a whistleblower's well-being in her hands. From 2009 to 2014, she was counsel to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

ALLISON MURPHY: We were very concerned for whistleblowers who had spouses, who had jobs that they needed to keep, who had families and children that could suffer consequences if the whistleblower's identity were made public.

MCCAMMON: Murphy says the staffers were meticulous about following protocols meant to keep the witnesses' identities private.

MURPHY: We would protect whistleblowers if they were required to testify by taking their testimony from an undisclosed location, using a physical screen and even a voice distorter if necessary.

MCCAMMON: In documents and even in conversation, Murphy says whistleblowers were identified only as confidential sources. Sometimes senators didn't even know their names. Those kinds of procedures will be put to the test as the House Intelligence Committee prepares to take testimony from the whistleblower. On NBC's "Meet The Press" this weekend, Chairman Adam Schiff said protecting his or her identity is the committee's paramount concern.


ADAM SCHIFF: This whistleblower has done, obviously, a cardinal service to the country by exposing wrongdoing of the most serious kind - that a breach of the president's duty to the country that endangers our security. And he's got to be worried about his own security right now with the president issuing threats like he did the other day.

MCCAMMON: President Trump has suggested the person is a traitor and a spy, saying, quote, "you know what we used to do in the old days, when we were smart." In a letter to the acting director of national intelligence, Andrew Bakaj, an attorney for the whistleblower, raised an alarm about the president's language, writing, the events of the past week have heightened our concerns that our client's identity will be disclosed publicly and that, as a result, our client will be put in harm's way. Brad Moss is an attorney who works on intelligence and security matters, including whistleblower protections.

BRAD MOSS: The system never really contemplated this specific scenario.

MCCAMMON: Moss is at the law firm of Mark Zaid, who is also among the whistleblower's legal team. Moss is not representing the whistleblower himself. He says most laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation focus on officials at government agencies, not the president.

MOSS: We don't know what would happen if the person's identity was outed and President Trump ordered them fired. We don't know if the protections would kick in. And obviously, the system isn't designed for physical security, necessarily, when the person potentially raising concerns or raising the ire of the masses is the president.

MCCAMMON: Moss says it will be up to members of Congress and their staffers to respect the privacy of the whistleblower as the process moves forward. Justin Rood is with the watchdog group the Project on Government Oversight, which trains congressional staff on how to protect whistleblowers. One way, Rood says, is by not leaning too heavily on their testimony in building a case.

JUSTIN ROOD: You try as little as possible to rely on a single source of an allegation. You try to corroborate as much as possible. And you try to keep their name and their existence out of the investigation as much as possible.

MCCAMMON: Rood says it may be more difficult to keep this whistleblower out of the public eye given that this complaint points directly at the president.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.