Whistleblower Offers To Field Written Questions About Call Trump Says Was 'Perfecto'

Nov 3, 2019
Originally published on November 4, 2019 9:26 am

The anonymous whistleblower whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry into President Trump has agreed to answer written questions under oath from House Republicans. The offer came as President Trump called on Sunday for news organizations to identify the name of the whistleblower.

Mark Zaid, an attorney for the whistleblower, confirmed to NPR that an offer has been made to the House Intelligence Committee to open a direct channel between the whistleblower and Republicans as long as the questions do not compromise the individual's identity. All of the whistleblower's answers would be made under penalty of perjury.

It is not clear, however, whether Republicans will take Zaid up on the proposal.

"Receipt acknowledged," Zaid told NPR, saying House Republicans have confirmed they received the offer. "No substantive response yet."

On CBS' Face the Nation, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggested written testimony would not satisfy Republicans.

"When you're talking about the removal of the president of the United States, undoing democracy, undoing what the American public had voted for, I think that individual should come before the committee," said McCarthy. "He needs to answer the questions."

Trump has also been demanding that the whistleblower sit for questioning, alleging that the whistleblower was politically motivated. That claim has been denied by the whistleblower's legal team.

"Being a whistleblower is not a partisan job," Zaid tweeted on Sunday. "Nor is impeachment an objective. That is not our role."

News of the whistleblower's offer to provide written testimony came three days after the House voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and set in motion a timetable for public hearings.

Since the start of the inquiry in September, House investigators have spoken to roughly a dozen witnesses about the president's efforts to pressure the government of Ukraine.

According to a White House summary of the now infamous July 25 call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for help investigating unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. The president also sought assistance investigating a debunked conspiracy theory accusing Ukraine of involvement in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee — an attack U.S. intelligence has traced to Russia. The call took place as nearly $400 million in U.S. aid for Ukraine was up in the air.

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or a "quid pro quo."

"The whistleblower gave a very inaccurate report about my phone call," Trump said on Sunday. "My phone call was perfecto."

In recent days, Republican allies have escalated their attacks on the impeachment process, decrying a process they say is unfair to the president and lacking in transparency. Some of the president's allies are also now openly speculating on the identity of the whistleblower.

On Sunday, Trump pleaded with the news media to disclose who the whistleblower is, arguing that the person's account of Trump's call with the president of Ukraine is incorrect.

"They know who it is. You know who it is. You just don't want to report it," Trump told reporters. "And you know, you would be doing a public a service if you did."

Federal law protects whistleblowers in the intelligence community from retaliation and shields their identity, as long as they follow procedure to ensure that classified information is not divulged.

The whistleblower's legal team has maintained that disclosing their client's name places the individual and their family in physical danger.

Since the whistleblower's complaint was filed, the whistleblower and the person's legal team have received death threats, according to Zaid.

House Democrats involved in the impeachment proceedings have said that the whistleblower's testimony is no longer critical to the inquiry, since the account has now been confirmed by former White House aides and other witnesses before the three committees leading the investigation.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

The whistleblower whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is making Republicans an offer. This person, who is still anonymous, is willing to answer written questions from House Republicans. Meanwhile, President Trump is calling for the whistleblower's identity to be exposed. NPR's Bobby Allyn has been reporting on all of this. He's in the studio now. Hey, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: OK, so let's start with the offer. What is on the table here?

ALLYN: OK, so I talked to Mark Zaid. He represents the whistleblower. And he told me that the whistleblower has agreed to answer questions from Republicans. Now, if you've been following along very closely, you know that this is not the first time the offer has been extended. Written testimony from the whistleblower was on the table once before, but what's really different this time is the questions and answers wouldn't have to involve Democrats, who, of course, control the committees that are leading the investigation. So this is a direct channel of communication now open to Republicans. And the lawyer says the whistleblower will answer these questions under oath - so under penalty of perjury - just as long as the individual's identity is not in danger of being revealed.

KING: OK, this is a really interesting offer. Does it seem like Republicans are going to take the whistleblower up on it?

ALLYN: So the offer has been sent to Representative Devin Nunes. He's the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee. And we haven't yet heard from his office, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested on CBS's "Face The Nation" yesterday that written testimony might not satisfy Republicans.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

KEVIN MCCARTHY: When you're talking about the removal of the president of the United States, undoing democracy, undoing what the American public had voted for, I think that individual should come before the committee. He could come down to the basement, but he needs to answer the questions.

ALLYN: And this is a good place to note that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has said that investigators might not need to hear from the whistleblower - because remember, the whistleblower's account was a secondhand account. And they now have heard from people who were on the call. So the whistleblower is no longer critical to the investigation, at least according to Schiff.

KING: So in the meantime, amid all of this, President Trump still really wants to know who this person is. Yesterday, he said, quote, "The whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false stories," end quote. There are some things standing in the way of this, though, including federal law, right?

ALLYN: Yeah, that's right. So federal law does protect the whistleblower's identity. That's kind of the point of the whistleblower law that, you know, is allowing this whistleblower to come forward anonymously. But that has not stopped a lot of speculation, especially on conservative media. Rush Limbaugh, online conservative publications and elsewhere, you know, really trying to out this individual. An individual's name has been out there. It's not been confirmed anywhere. And the whistleblower's lawyers have not confirmed any of these reports. They also haven't denied any of the reports.

But here's what we do know - that this whistleblower is from the intelligence community. And that's basically it. Trump is trying to change that, though. Trump really wants this person's name to be outed. In fact, Trump said yesterday to reporters that if the media reveals who this whistleblower is, it would be, quote, "a public service." So I called up Yale law professor Harold Koh. He was the State Department's legal adviser during the Obama administration. And he described the president encouraging people to out the whistleblower as disgusting.

HAROLD KOH: If the net result of passing the Whistleblower Protection Act is that you're singling somebody out for punishment, retaliation and persecution, then Congress ought to take action to impose penalties on those people who do those kinds of things.

ALLYN: So as a country, we find ourselves in a unique position right now, right? So many Republicans are trying to unmask this individual in order to challenge the whistleblower's motivations. At the same time, we've had a parade of witnesses who have corroborated much of the whistleblower's account of President Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president - a call, I will say, that the president yesterday described as quote, "perfecto."

KING: NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thanks, Bobby.

ALLYN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.