Just up Connecticut Avenue is the National Whistleblower Center, which sounds like a fortified barracks for defenders of accountability — but is actually a tiny room in a co-working space, with a handful of employees and a few succulents. The center is trying to educate the public on a civic duty that Trump and his party are besmirching constantly.
“To have major politicians threatening whistleblowers — we don’t have a precedent for that,” says John Kostyack, the center’s executive director. “It’s obviously very difficult to hold the president legally accountable, but there are people who are at risk of criminal sanctions” if they threaten or expose a whistleblower.
Just down Connecticut Avenue, 1,500 feet from the White House, is the office of Jesselyn Radack, who as a Justice Department attorney blew the whistle on the FBI’s mistreatment of alleged terrorist John Walker Lindh, a U.S. citizen. Radack, who is now Snowden’s lawyer, says she finds the current episode “chilling” because of the laser focus on the whistleblower’s identity.
“Anonymity is so important, because the obvious impulse of the government is to shoot the messenger,” says Radack, who heads a whistleblower and source-protection program. “To claim they were motivated by politics or fame, or they were a disgruntled employee who had it out for an agency — all those are really red herrings.”
The message matters. The messenger — man or woman? Democratic or Republican? CIA or NSA? — is immaterial.
But the suffering is real. Depending on the sensitivity or impact of their disclosure, whistleblowers can experience a range of hardship and trauma. Paranoia. Insomnia. Depression. Bankruptcy. Miscarriage. Divorce. Thoughts of suicide. When co-workers distance themselves, when the full force of the government comes down like a hammer, the feeling of isolation is profound. Some whistleblowers wind up in prison. Some retreat from public life, or from the United States.
Others, like Radack, turn their experience into a life’s work. One of her clients was Thomas Drake, a senior official in the National Security Agency who blew the whistle on a domestic surveillance program that he viewed as wasteful and unconstitutional. Drake’s home was raided, his property confiscated. He was charged under the Espionage Act, and faced a costly legal battle and the prospect of 35 years in prison. The government eventually dropped the charges, but Drake’s career was destroyed.
Watching the current whistleblower drama unfold in Washington, he feels an old dread.
“You feel betrayed by your own country,” Drake says. “I feel it to this day. That’s why I’m having flashbacks. I know exactly what those whistleblowers are going through. . . . You are making a life-altering choice, and that continues to affect you the rest of your life.”
What is the Trump-Ukraine whistleblower feeling? We can only guess. Who is this whistleblower? It doesn’t matter, even though Republicans in Congress insist otherwise. The complaint started a formal process of inquiry and corroboration. Democrats are moving beyond the whistleblower because named officials are testifying to the complaint’s veracity.
The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was removed based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives,” the ambassador herself, Marie L. Yovanovitch, wrote to Congress on Oct. 11.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was running a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine to personally benefit Trump, the former top Russia adviser to the White House told impeachment investigators on Oct. 14.
Military assistance to Ukraine was dependent on its president announcing an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, said the interim ambassador, William B. Taylor Jr., on Tuesday.
“Where’s the Whistleblower?” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
“Where’s the Whistleblower?” Trump tweeted again on Saturday.
They’re all around us, doing their jobs.