WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump faces criticism from political opponents — and queasiness even among some supporters — for naming the alleged whistleblower whose complaint triggered the congressional inquiry that resulted in his impeachment.
A retweet late Friday to Trump's 68 million Twitter followers identified a person it says is the whistleblower. That could run afoul of two laws, said David Colapinto, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers.
"The president has a responsibility under the whistleblower statute to ensure protection of the intelligence community" who report alleged wrongdoing, Colapinto said Sunday. He said Trump's act was a "willful violation of the law."
Colapinto's colleague, attorney Stephen Kohn, wrote in the National Law Review on Friday that when Trump "signed onto the job of president, protecting intelligence community whistleblowers became one of his few mandatory job duties."
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and a Trump backer, said when asked in a CNN interview if he thinks it's appropriate for the president to publicly identify the alleged whistleblower: "I think we ought to follow the law." Kennedy didn't specifically denounce the tweet, though he said Trump might consider spending less time posting on the social media website.
Trump's Twitter move, while a retweet and not an original message, could potentially run afoul of the laws protecting whistleblowers in the intelligence community and another portion of the criminal code that protects confidential informants from retaliation.
"No responsible government official or lawyer in the U.S. could credibly argue that someone who brings a complaint to the inspector general is not protected by the statute," Colapinto said. That protection includes remaining anonymous, as well as being shielded from retaliation, he said.
The tweet — from Surfermom77 or "Sophia," who describes herself as living in California and a "100% Trump supporter" — names someone who's allegedly the person who alerted the intelligence community's inspector general to the president's conduct in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
For months, Trump has edged toward identifying the whistleblower. He's previously questioned the person's legitimacy and legal standing, called on media organizations to publish the person's name — as some conservative outlets have — and even demanded to meet the whistleblower himself. His Friday retweet was regarded as a provocation even by some officials within the White House.
The president claims the whistleblower, working with Democrats, misrepresented his "perfect" conversation with Ukraine's leader. But the main facts listed in the complaint were confirmed in the partial transcript of the call later released by the White House.
Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, defended Trump's naming of, and regular attacks on, the informant. He said on "Fox News Sunday" that he doesn't believe the whistleblower deserves that title because he or she was able to submit the complaint anonymously relying on "innuendo" and "false statements."
"A lot of that should come out," Scalise said. "The public ought to know."