Trump on the whistleblower's sources: In the old days, this country knew how to deal with spies

The point of having a formal whistleblower process is to encourage government officials who have information on misconduct to report it, without fear of retaliation. If you want to drain the swamp, make sure the swamp creatures understand that they could have their corruption exposed and won’t be allowed to threaten the witness when they do. Joseph Maguire specifically promised at this morning’s hearing, in fact, that he wouldn’t tolerate any retaliation against whoever wrote the whistleblower complaint on Ukraine.

So here’s the president casually hinting to a roomful of people today that the people responsible for supplying the information for the complaint would have been executed if America was great again. And not just any roomful of people. He was addressing U.S. diplomatic staff — people who are in a position themselves to be whistleblowers potentially if they witness misconduct.

Imagine being a Senate Republican who’s already feeling queasy about the impeachment fight now having to defend this. You’re grasping for arguments that the president’s intentions on Ukraine and the Bidens weren’t sinister. And suddenly he’s like wait until I get my hands on whoever reported this…

The remark stunned people in the audience, according to a person briefed on what took place, who had notes of what the president said. Mr. Trump made the statement about several minutes into his remarks before the group of about 50 people at the event intended to honor the United States Mission. At the outset, he condemned the former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s role in Ukraine at a time when his son Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company…

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Mr. Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Some in the crowd laughed, the person briefed on what took place said. The event was closed to reporters, and during his remarks, the president called the news media “scum” in addition to labeling them as crooked.

That reminded me of a vivid quote from a story I read last night about the political bind congressional Republicans are in over the Ukraine matter:

Months ago, one House member from a firmly red district described feeling like the most wanted man in his state after he made a vote Trump didn’t like.

“Trump has said he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone dead and and not lose any supporters,” said the member. “Well, if that happens I’d better be photographed stuffing a body into the trunk of a car, or my constituents will demand to know why I’m not supporting the president.”

Could the president shoot a whistleblower on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote? We’ll find out.

It’s tempting to say “ugh” about his remarks to staff at the UN Mission and then move on but Democrats are eager for material to add to their impeachment case against him. Openly threatening the whistleblower and/or his sources is arguably obstruction of justice. After all, the officials who gave information to the whistleblower about Trump and Ukraine might eventually be called to testify before Congress to substantiate the allegations in the complaint. The president’s now on record as saying that he regards them as little better than spies. The federal law on witness tampering prohibits knowingly using “intimidation” with intent to prevent a witness from testifying. Democrats are probably going to toss this into the articles of impeachment and call it separate and independent grounds to impeach. What will Republicans say?

Yeah, I know: “He was joking.” People laughed, right?

Is it even clear from the whistleblower complaint, by the way, that the sources meant to blow the whistle on Trump? The impression I got from it isn’t that they were feeding information to the author in the hope and expectation that he would take it to Congress. It was more “can you believe this?” gossip, with no intention that it would be made public. After all, if they wanted the information out there, they could have written their own complaints or leaked it to the media ages ago. As it is, it’s unclear (and even doubtful) that they did anything illegal by sharing what they knew with the author. I wonder if Trump focused on them instead of the whistleblower himself in what he said about “spies” because it’s already been drummed into him by his lawyers that he shouldn’t say anything threatening about the author of the complaint. He needed to vent, he couldn’t vent legally about his chief antagonist without making much more trouble for himself, so he decided to scapegoat the people who supplied the whistleblower with information rather than the person who went public with it.

John has a post coming up about the Times’s new story this afternoon reporting key details about the whistleblower’s identity. I don’t want to step on that so I won’t say anything about it here except to note that the paper is under fire for publishing it for an understandable reason. Chew on this:

The famous op-ed written by an anti-Trump member of the government — “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” — is now more than a year old and its author remains unknown to this day, a secret successfully kept by the op-ed editors of the New York Times. If they’re willing to out the whistleblower, why not the author of that piece?