October 6, 2019
Why America Needs Whistle-BlowersRoundup
Professor at Middlebury College.
In accusing the intelligence community whistle-blower of partisanship and treason, President Trump has redefined whistle-blowing to serve his private interests rather than the rule of law. In the American tradition, whistle-blowers expose illegal or unconstitutional acts that the powerful want to keep secret.
Whistle-blower protection is as old as the Republic itself. The Continental Congress passed the world’s first whistle-blower protection legislation in 1778 in an effort to keep American elites honest.
The current whistle-blower complaint shines light on an attempted cover-up and an intelligence community that sees the president advancing the Trump brand at the expense of American national security.
But the whistle-blower is just the tip of the iceberg. In Mr. Trump’s presidency, there have been unprecedented disclosures from the intelligence community on his behavior. While overturning longstanding intelligence community norms, Mr. Trump has repeatedly charged it with partisanship. But members of the intelligence community swear allegiance to the Constitution, not the president. They serve their country regardless of the party in the White House.
From the start, Mr. Trump trampled on longstanding intelligence community ideals of nonpartisanship and the importance of presenting the unvarnished truth to politicians. As his conversations with both the president of Ukraine and the prime minister of Australia indicate, Mr. Trump sees Bill Barr, the attorney general — a man charged with dispatching impartial justice in the United States — as his personal lackey.
It is hardly unusual for American presidents to punish leakers harshly. Mr. Snowden was the seventh person the Obama administration charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act.
But Mr. Trump is the first American president, in this context, to encourage foreign electoral interference while actively seeking to intimidate and shut down the work of institutions intended to keep government accountable to the people. He is also the first president to incite his supporters via tweet to retaliate against a whistle-blower whom both his own intelligence community inspector general and Congress deem legitimate.
Like the president, intelligence community employees swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. In insisting on speaking truth to power at great personal sacrifice, whistle-blowers serve their country and challenge all of us to think for ourselves. What could be more American than that?
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