By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The identity of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked an impeachment investigation into U.S. President Donald Trump must be protected, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said Tuesday.
Grassley's comments mark a clear break with the president, who has said he is seeking to unmask the individual.
“This person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected. We should always work to respect whistleblowers’ requests for confidentiality," Grassley said in a statement.
“No one should be making judgments or pronouncements without hearing from the whistleblower first and carefully following up on the facts. Uninformed speculation wielded by politicians or media commentators as a partisan weapon is counterproductive and doesn’t serve the country," he added.
Trump has said his administration is seeking to ascertain the identity of the individual whose complaint about a July 25 telephone call Trump held with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sparked the House of Representatives' ongoing impeachment investigation.
The president has sought to undermine the whistleblower, saying he or she relied on second-hand information about the call, as well as about additional information that followed up on that conversation.
Grassley, who is the chairman and co-founder of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, said distinctions between whether the individual had first-hand knowledge or second-hand information "aren’t legal" ones.
"It’s just not part of whistleblower protection law or any agency policy," he said. "Complaints based on second-hand information should not be rejected out of hand, but they do require additional leg work to get at the facts and evaluate the claim’s credibility."
The House began its impeachment investigation into Trump last week, centered on the July call in which Trump repeatedly asked Zelensky to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, on uncorroborated corruption claims.
The elder Biden is the leading Democratic candidate heading into next year's presidential elections, making him a clear political rival to Trump. Soliciting the assistance of a foreign leader to undermine Biden has raised questions of election interference that have been the foundation for the House's impeachment investigation.
Trump has denied any sort of wrongdoing, maintaining his call with Zelensky was "perfect" while seeking to undermine the whistleblower, whose complaint brought the telephone call and other related matters to the public's attention.
"So if the so-called 'Whistleblower' has all second hand information, and almost everything he has said about my 'perfect' call with the Ukrainian President is wrong (much to the embarrassment of Pelosi & Schiff), why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him," Trump fumed on Twitter, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff.
Trump said Monday he is trying to determine the whistleblower's identity, which is protected by U.S. law.
"The Intel Community Whistleblower is entitled to anonymity. Law and policy support this and the individual is not to be retaliated against. Doing so is a violation of federal law," Andrew Bakaj, one of the individual's lawyers, said on Twitter.
The individual has remained anonymous, though media reports have indicated the person is a male who was a CIA employee assigned to the White House. He or she is expected to testify before the House in the not-too-distant future, according to Schiff, who said his committee is working to establish a way the testimony could be held in a format that would protect the individual's identity.