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DEBRA J. SAUNDERS: Whistling past the graveyard


It started out predictably last month with a Washington Post story about a whistleblower who filed a complaint about President Donald Trump’s remarks during a phone conversation. The conversation included a “promise” made to an unknown foreign leader.

The next day, the Post reported that the country was Ukraine, according to “two people familiar with the matter.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he could not confirm the story, as the administration was blocking the complaint filed with the intelligence community inspector general from reaching Congress. “There is an effort to prevent this information from getting to Congress,” Schiff complained to reporters. He added that he believed the complaint “likely involves the president or people around him.”

Schiff is such a fraud that he’s giving impeachment a bad name.

We now know the whistleblower went to the Intelligence Committee before contacting the intelligence community inspector general. In fact, The New York Times reported, committee staff suggested the anonymous source get a lawyer to help with a complaint.

In the Aug. 12 complaint, the whistleblower had charged that, while not being a direct witness to a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he or she learned from other officials “that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

Schiff told the same story to Morning Joe: “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower. We would like to. But I am sure the whistleblower has concerns that he has not been advised, as the law requires, by the inspector general or the director of national intelligence just how he is supposed to communicate with Congress, and so the risk to the whistleblower is retaliation.”

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler gave the California Democrat “four Pinocchios” for that dishonest claim.

Schiff’s narrative has a purpose — it allows him to portray Trump’s accuser as vulnerable and worthy of protection. We need to take “precautions,” Schiff has said, to protect this lone exposer of truth.

Brad Blakeman, a senior attorney in President George W. Bush’s administration, argued that the accuser’s decision to go to Schiff’s committee is problematic. “If you’re a career CIA” — as The New York Times reported — “you mean you don’t know the procedure of filing a grievance?”

Blakeman went on: “The first thing, you go to the most visceral political adversary” in the House? “You don’t know that there’s an IG? That doesn’t pass the smell test. It goes to motive.”

Already, however, it turns out the whistleblower has company — the vulnerable accuser’s attorney, Mark S. Zaid, announced he has another whistleblower client and that person is a direct witness.

“I think this follows the Kavanaugh model,” Blakeman said with a reference to the number of women who accused the new Supreme Court justice as his Senate confirmation became imminent. “They roll them out and they go for volume over substance.”

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi scoffed at the notion that the intelligence witness is “a whistleblower.”

“Actual whistleblowers are alone,” Taibbi wrote. “The Ukraine complaint seems to be the work of a group of people, supported by significant institutional power, not only in the intelligence community, but in the Democratic Party and the commercial press.”

The fact that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she was launching an impeachment inquiry before the whistleblower report was made public suggests how strongly the fix was in. Now, it appears Pelosi acted precipitously, as she argued she had to act because “press reports began to break of a phone call by the president of the United States, calling upon a foreign power to intervene in his election. This is a breach of his constitutional responsibilities.”

To counter that narrative, Trump released a rough transcript of the call the next day. According to the document, Trump told Zelenskiy, “There’s a lot of talk about (former Vice President Joe) Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution” of the Ukraine energy company that paid him $50,000 a month.

Biden had boasted that the then- Ukrainian president fired said prosecutor because the veep threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees — but it has not been established that Biden did so to protect his son.

By releasing the transcript, Trump believes he has demonstrated that he exerted “no pressure” on Zelenskiy. That’s highly debatable. And I would add, Trump showed abysmal judgment in asking a foreign leader to help deliver dirt on a 2020 rival.

But the transcript does make the league of likely whistleblowers waiting in the wings — the “multiple” officials cited in the inspector general complaint — redundant.

If Schiff calls them to testify, it is not at all clear that they will come across as sympathetic creatures standing up to power. Because in many ways, they look like cogs in a well-oiled machine.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at DSaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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