WASHINGTON — President Trump and his army of far-right supporters wasted little time coalescing around a theory to try to discredit the intelligence officer who blew the whistle on Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.
Promoted by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and other Republican lawmakers, this theory claimed the whistleblower had no first-hand knowledge of the allegations in his complaint and so the allegations couldn’t be trusted. “It’s all hearsay,” Graham told CBS. “You can’t get a parking ticket conviction based on hearsay. The whistleblower didn’t hear the phone call.” The conservative website The Federalist went even further, claiming that the intelligence community had “secretly gutted” a requirement that whistleblowers “provide direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings.”
This supposed revelation — which typically caught fire in the self-contained information ecosystem of the right — “raises questions” about the intelligence community’s “behavior” related to the Trump-Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint, the Federalist claimed. In other words, what Trump and his allies want you to believe is that the Deep State somehow changed the rules to allow a whistleblower with credibility problems to come forward with grave allegations against the president.
The Federalist published its story on Friday. By Monday morning, this unverified theory had reached the Oval Office. “WHO CHANGED THE LONG STANDING WHISTLEBLOWER RULES JUST BEFORE SUBMITTAL OF THE FAKE WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT? DRAIN THE SWAMP!” Trump tweeted.
But on Monday night, the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community released a rare public statement that debunked Trumpworld’s latest distraction and disinformation campaign.
Contrary to what Trump and McCarthy claimed, the inspector general said it had vetted the whistleblower’s allegations — most troubling of all, that Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election” — and found them to be both “urgent” and “credible.”
Here’s the kicker: According to the inspector general, the Trump-Ukraine whistleblower noted on the form he submitted with his complaints that he had both firsthand and indirect knowledge of the events described in the complaint. The intelligence community inspector general vetted this and found that the whistleblower had “direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct.“ And no, the inspector general added, the whistleblower did not benefit from some new form that made it easier for him to submit his complaint about Trump. Not that it would’ve mattered because, again, as the inspector general explained, the whistleblower had direct, firsthand knowledge of certain allegations made in his complaint.
“The whistleblower submitted the appropriate Disclosure of Urgent Concern form that was in effect as of August 12, 2019, and had been used by the ICIG since May 24, 2018,” the inspector general’s new statement says. “The whistleblower stated on the form that he or she possessed both first-hand and other information. The ICIG reviewed the information provided as well as other information gathered and determined that the complaint was both urgent and that it appeared credible.”
Mark Zaid, a Washington, D.C. lawyer whose firm represents the whistleblower, reacted to the inspector general’s rare public statement by saying on Twitter: “The whistleblower allegations will be governed by the rule of law and facts; disinformation conspiracy theories will not impede the process.”
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) October 1, 2019
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the most senior Republicans in Congress, came to the whistleblower’s defense on Tuesday. “This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected,” Grassley said in a statement. “We should always work to respect whistleblowers’ requests for confidentiality.”
The inspector general’s rebuke and Grassley’s request, however, are unlikely to deter the president. Despite federally-mandated protections for whistleblowers, Trump has said he wants and “deserves” to know the identity of the whistleblower.