Whistleblower disputes boil over in impeachment interview

WASHINGTON — Transcripts released Friday in the impeachment inquiry show Republicans and Democrats repeatedly skirmishing over GOP questions that appeared aimed at drawing out the identity of the whistleblower who filed the initial complaint against President Donald Trump. Trump himself speculated that the whistleblower “should be sued. And maybe for treason.”

During questioning last month of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Trump national security adviser, Republicans repeatedly asked questions that could reveal the whistleblower’s identity — leading to sharp exchanges with Democrats and Vindman’s lawyer.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., finally intervened, saying: “It is the ruling of the chair that the witness shall not identify employees, detailees or contractors of the intelligence agency, or provide information that may lead to the revelation of the identity of the whistleblower, someone whose life has been put at risk.”

Democrats “are determined to protect the right of that whistleblower to remain anonymous,” Schiff said, “and we will not allow bad-faith efforts to out this whistleblower.”

Vindman’s lawyer, Michael Volkov, said his client would not answer questions about how many people, other than State Department official George Kent, he told about concerns he had over Trump’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine. The call, and Trump’s request for a “favour” from Ukraine are the basis of the impeachment inquiry.

Pressed repeatedly, Volkov said of his client: “Look, he came here. He tells you he’s not the whistleblower, okay? He says he feels uncomfortable about it. Try and respect his feelings at this point.”

A person then identified only as “voice” interjects: “We’re uncomfortable impeaching the president.”

Volkov then shot back: “What I’m telling you right now is you have to protect the identity of a whistleblower. I get that there may be political overtones. You guys go do what you got to do, but do not put this man ln the middle of it.”

Volkov added that he had “never seen either party ever try to out a whistleblower in the same concerted way that is going on in here.”

That prompted argument with Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., over where the GOP was going with their questions.

“You know what? I know what you’re going to say,” Volkov said angrily. “I already know what you’re going to do, okay? And I don’t want to hear the Fox News questions, okay? Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right.”

Zeldin then tried to assure Volkov that Republicans were not attempting to out the whistleblower.

“That’s not true. I don’t believe you,” Volkov retorted.

U.S. whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Lawmakers in both parties have historically backed those protections.

The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of whistleblowers.

Trump and other Republicans have blasted the media for not reporting the name of a person identified in conservative circles as the whistleblower. So far Trump has avoided using the name publicly.

Schiff repeatedly sparred with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, one of the three committees conducting the closed-door interviews. Jordan was named Friday to the House Intelligence panel, where he and Schiff are likely to do combat with each other at public hearings scheduled next week.

“Mr. Jordan, the minority may not care about protecting the whistleblower, but we in the majority do,” Schiff said.

“We fully care about protecting the whistleblower. In fact, you’re the only one who knows who these people are who started this whole thing,” Jordan shot back, referring to early contacts the whistleblower had with Democratic staffers on the Intelligence panel.

At another point, as Schiff again urged a GOP lawyer not to attempt to “out” the whistleblower, Jordan interjected: “Mr. Chairman, his lawyer can serve as his lawyer. You can just serve as the chairman. We can ask the questions we want to ask.”

Schiff replied: “Mr. Jordan, we have an obligation to protect whistleblowers.”

Later, Steve Castor, a lawyer for Republicans on the Oversight panel, asked Vindman directly: “Is the whistleblower ———-?” The last part of the question is blacked out on the transcript.

Schiff interrupted and Vindman never answered.

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this story.

Matthew Daly, The Associated Press

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