Sen. Rand Paul read aloud the name of the alleged whistleblower who first raised alarms about President Donald Trump's conduct toward Ukraine. And most Republicans didn’t seem to care.
After being denied by Chief Justice John Roberts last week, Paul used a period reserved for senators’ impeachment speeches to read aloud the name of an intelligence community official alleged to be the whistleblower.
"They made a big mistake not allowing my question. My question did not talk about anybody who is a whistleblower, my question did not accuse anybody of being whistleblower, it did not make a statement believing that someone was a whistleblower. I simply named two people's names because I think it's very important to know what happened," Paul said on the floor.
It’s the type of move that might have prompted a backlash from within his own party not too long ago, and several senators said they would not have done it. But after three weeks of the impeachment trial and with Trump’s firm grip over the party, there was little blowback from his colleagues on Tuesday.
“I was glad we didn’t put the chief justice in a bad situation,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership. “I have some sympathy for [Paul’s] view on this. The whistleblower law should protect the whistleblower’s job and future opportunity and not necessarily hide who the whistleblower is.”
“It’s fine,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “Had there been a vote on it, I probably would have voted to override the chief justice.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has long touted his reputation protecting whistleblowers, said simply: “If it’s the same name everybody else used, then it’s kind of out there.”
Trump has repeatedly attacked the whistleblower on social media and in recent remarks. And in using the person's name on the Senate floor, Paul went further than any other House or Senate Republican. When Paul sought to have Roberts read his question during a two-day round of inquiries during the trial — Roberts refused, saying, "The presiding officer declines to read the question."
Under the Constitution, Paul’s own speech is protected on the Senate floor. That means “he can do whatever he wants on the floor,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
But some Republicans did seek to gently put distance between themselves and Paul, a longtime troublemaker within the Senate GOP who has single handedly caused brief shutdowns of the government and the Patriot Act in his two terms in the Senate.
“I still believe in whistleblower protection. I think the fact that the chief justice wouldn’t read it is an indicator of the sensitivity of it,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “So I probably wouldn’t have done that.”
“I wouldn’t have done it,” agreed Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who said he would have voted down Paul if he had contested Roberts on the Senate floor. “I would have said that we’ve asked the chief justice by constitutional directive to oversee this and I’m going to respect his wishes.”
Paul said Tuesday that he supports protections against reprisal for whistleblowers but not necessarily anonymity.
"In the first month of [Trump's] office, in January of 2017, they were already plotting the impeachment," he alleged. "And you say 'Well, we should protect the whistleblower, and the whistleblower deserves anonymity.' The law does not preserve anonymity. His boss is not supposed to say anything about him, he's not supposed to be fired. I'm for that."
The whistleblower filed a complaint in August with an intelligence community watchdog, Inspector General Michael Atkinson. The complaint, which cited widespread concerns inside the Trump administration, alleged that Trump appeared to pressure Ukraine's president to launch politically motivated investigations of his Democratic rivals.
Atkinson indicated that the whistleblower showed "some indicia of an arguable political bias" but after reviewing the complaint and deemed it "urgent" and credible, triggering a requirement to transmit the complaint to Congress. The director of national intelligence, though, instead forwarded the complaint to the Justice Department, which overruled Atkinson's judgment and blocked the complaint from reaching the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
In September, Schiff subpoenaed for the document and received it two weeks later, when DNI Joseph Maguire testified about it to Congress. Schiff later acknowledged that his staff had been in contact with the whistleblower prior to his complaint to the inspector general, a revelation that fueled Republican claims — fiercely rejected by Schiff — that the Democrat knew the identity of the whistleblower. Schiff has called any suggestion that his staff coached or aided the whistleblower "smears."
"First of all, I don't know who the whistleblower is. I haven't met them or communicated with them in any way. The committee staff did not write the complaint or coach the whistleblower what to put in the complaint," Schiff said on the Senate floor on Jan. 29. He added, "In short, the conspiracy theory ... that the whistleblower colluded with the Intel Committee staff to hatch an impeachment inquiry is a complete and total fiction."
Schiff initially indicated that his panel wanted to secure testimony from the whistleblower but later backed off that call after new witnesses came forward and offered more direct knowledge of the allegations against Trump, many of which bolstered and added details to the rough chronology described by the whistleblower. Schiff has also indicated he reversed course on seeking the whistleblower's testimony in part because Trump himself had made threats against the whistleblower's sources.
Republicans attacked Schiff throughout a series of fall impeachment depositions for blocking Republicans from asking questions that inched closer to identifying the alleged whistleblower, and he publicly cut short a line of questioning of National Security Council official Alexander Vindman that appeared geared toward identifying the whistleblower.
Rep. Louie Gohmert also used the alleged whistleblower's name during the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings in December, though he, too, did not identify the person as the whistleblower.