Author Tom Mueller on the ‘Minefield’ Facing the Trump-Ukraine Whistle-blower

Author Tom Mueller on the ‘Minefield’ Facing the Trump-Ukraine Whistle-blower

President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25.
Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Since a U.S. intelligence official filed a complaint documenting concerns that President Trump was pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, Americans have heard a lot about the process of whistle-blowing — but unfortunately, much of it is incorrect. President Trump has called the whistle-blower a “fraud” and a “spy,” threatened to punish him for a treasonous act, and done his best to expose the anonymous intelligence source’s identity.

For his new, impeccably timed book, Crisis of Conscience, author Tom Mueller spoke to hundreds of whistle-blowers in the public and private sectors. He found that we’re living in a “golden age” of whistle-blowing: People who come forward to expose wrongdoing have become “the government’s best weapon against corporate misconduct and the citizenry’s best defense against government gone bad.” Unfortunately, the moment didn’t emerge in a vacuum: Mueller argues that it’s a result of a “rise in institutional corruption and normalized fraud.” As this golden age intersects with the Trump administration, Intelligencer spoke with Mueller about the president’s willful misunderstanding of the scandal, the process of intelligence community whistle-blowing, and the dangers the anonymous official still faces.

Is there any validity to the Trump team’s claim that this official is not a proper whistle-blower, or that their information is tainted by political bias?

I think there’s no reason to assume anything of the sort. This person followed legal channels rigorously throughout the whistle-blowing process, and that’s very carefully laid out by law. The fact that they consulted the House Intelligence Committee for advice on how to proceed is a very standard thing that happens with many whistle-blowers because the whistle-blower laws are a minefield: If you don’t get the right path, you may blow up.

The assumption that because someone is a Republican or a Democrat they’re a political partisan, I believe there are public servants out there who are Republicans and Democrats — when they see signs of wrongdoing, misconduct, or violations of the Constitution, they will speak up. All this talk about their political affiliations and everything else, being a “spy,” a “traitor,” all of this is intended to deflect public attention from the facts they have brought forward, many of which have already been corroborated by the White House and other sources. There are very strong indications of illegal and unconstitutional behavior by the president.

What is that minefield you mention, and how could it undermine the claim being brought forward?

Particularly in the intelligence community, if you go through the wrong channels you can and will be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

That’s what happened to Reality Winner, yes?

That’s exactly what happened to Reality Winner, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, and a bunch of others. They were following protocol — in Reality Winner’s case and John Kiriakou’s case, perhaps not following protocol — outing severe, grotesque wrongdoing. They leaked it to the press, where they believed it needed to be, where the public needed to know, and then were prosecuted as spies and as traitors under a 1917 Espionage Act, which is simply a blunt force instrument of intimidation. It’s a totally outrageous piece of legislation to be used in this context. It was passed in WWI to be used against German spies and now we’re using it against people who really do have patriotic motives in 99 percent of cases.

So unlike these examples, the Ukraine whistle-blower went by the book to deliver actionable information to whoever could act on it, which ended up being the House Intelligence Committee.

Quite often whistle-blowers are rules people. They follow procedures. They typically, almost invariably, surface their concerns inside their organization first. The anti-whistle-blower lobby always says things like, “They’re traitors to the organization, they’re trying to blow up the organization.” That’s simply false, almost invariably, and in this case, too: Whistle-blowers bring their concerns to the attention of the proper authorities.

And remember, there are examples of intelligence community whistle-blowers who brought their concerns to the proper authorities and were squashed like bugs — Diane Roark and the NSA Five, as I call them in my book. They were longtime public servants in the NSA, they followed everything by the book, and their anonymity was guaranteed to them when they filed their whistle-blower complaints, and then the Defense Department inspector general gave them up to the Department of Justice, and the FBI came to their doors and pointed guns at their faces and they were subjected to years of legal retribution. Tom Drake was actually on trial and faced 35 years in jail for following protocol. This Ukraine whistle-blower took their life in their hands by following protocol, because that doesn’t always work out. But I guarantee you, if you go to the New York Times with that, you will end up in jail, they will prosecute you under the Espionage Act.

Now that the official has come forward in the proper fashion, are the laws in place robust enough to protect them, and to protect whistle-blowers in general?

By no means. They are very weak and they do not protect against retaliation or reprisal. In the intel community in particular, and for public employees in general, the protections are sorely wanting and desperately in need of improvement. You can bring your concerns to the agency, which is essentially accusing the agency itself of wrongdoing, and putting your name on the accusation. And giving them all of your evidence. You basically hope that they do the right thing. In this case, the inspector general did the right thing, and he got it, under considerable political pressure, to Congress. But in many cases, the IG does not do they right thing, they’re more of a cheerleader for the agency than an actual watchdog, and those whistle-blower complaints get swallowed. Then, in the agency, you are known as the person who surfaced this and they may come looking for you.

What does retaliation look like in this scenario? Could the whistle-blower be fired under false pretext, face some sort of exposure within the agency, or even prosecution?

In the hundreds of cases I looked at, there was everything from public humiliation in the office to being downgraded to dead-end jobs. Getting your desk moved to the basement next to the toilet. These are very standard ways of humiliating people. Then there’s removal of security clearances for intel people, which is death — you can’t do your job anymore. Being marched out by an armed guard in front of everyone. It’s not only punishing a person, it’s sending a message: If anyone else in this office speaks up, this is the treatment that you’re going to get. There’s also a permanent blackballing within the industry, so you will never work again in your chosen field. This is so standard, it’s almost rule number one of retaliation.

How do you think additional whistle-blowers coming forward might affect the scandal over Trump’s Ukraine call?

I think when you have multiple witnesses to a murder who all say the same thing, your evidence grows. I’ve seen in my research, a group of people who are inside of an organization, and who are not good with what the organization is doing, only one may be willing to take the risk. Maybe because they’re close to retirement, or they’re young enough to take the risk — once this person comes forward, they immediately become a clearinghouse for all of the concerned, who will come up to them privately and say: “Also mention this.” These people want to surface information, but for whatever reason, they can’t make that leap because it’s career suicide in many cases.

That complaint that this person wrote is no more than a bullet-pointed list of to-do items for Adam Schiff and the House Intel Committee when they investigate. This is why the testimony is so important, to flesh out the very bare-bones information that was laid out in the complaint. It’s invaluable as a starting point, but now it’s up to Congress to vet this, to prove that these facts are correct.

Tom Mueller: The Trump Whistle-blower Faces a ‘Minefield’

Promoted links by Taboola


The Popularity of Bernie Sanders Does Not Mean Identity Politics Are Over

By Sarah Jones

The goal isn’t a world where identity no longer matters, but where it doesn’t hold anyone back.

vision 2020

AOC Credits Sanders for Her Political Awakening at Bernie’s Big Comeback Rally

By Chas Danner

Hoping to reinvigorate his campaign just weeks after a heart attack, Sanders rolled out Ocasio-Cortez, who linked her political origin story to him

just asking questions

just asking questions

Author Tom Mueller on the ‘Minefield’ Facing the Trump-Ukraine Whistle-blower

By Matt Stieb

“If you don’t get the right path, you may blow up,” says Mueller, who argues in his new book that we’re living in a golden age of whistle-blowing.


Kasich Comes Out for Trump Impeachment

By Ed Kilgore

The former governor and 2016 candidate, like Mitt Romney, used to be a classic hardcore conservative. The GOP has changed a lot.

vision 2020

Gabbard Demands Clinton Enter 2020 Race, Calls Her ‘Queen of Warmongers’

By Ed Kilgore

The bizarre tweets follow the 2016 nominee’s implication that the current candidate is an agent of Russia.

vision 2020

Trump Believes He Has a Mandate for Tyranny

By Ed Kilgore

Given the vast powers Trump thinks voters gave him in 2016, what will he be like if he wins reelection? The mind reels.

the national interest

the national interest

Locating G7 Summit at Trump’s Own Property Is Genius, Conservative Argues

By Jonathan Chait

The Federalist columnist David Marcus argues that Trump is not only within his rights but brilliant for securing “home field advantage.”

democratic primaries

democratic primaries

Pete Buttigieg’s Chicago Fundraiser Debacle Won’t Help Him With Black Voters

By Zak Cheney-Rice

He needs black support for his new strategy: capturing Biden supporters if the former vice-president falters.


The Zuck’s Speech

By Brian Feldman

The Facebook CEO’s speech defending his right to not do anything and take no responsibility misses the point.

vision 2020

Bernie’s Back. And It’s Make-or-Break Time for His Campaign.

By Gabriel Debenedetti

The senator and presidential candidate has made his return to the trail, buoyed by an endorsement for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What happens next?

Boeing only turned these messages over to the FAA on Thursday

Text messages between Boeing employees in 2016 indicate that the company was aware of major problems with an automated feature on the 737 Max jet that made the aircraft difficult to control, the messages show.

Safety investigators say the system, known as MCAS, had repeatedly pushed the noses of planes down in Indonesia and Ethi­o­pia, contributing to crashes that killed 346 people in the past year.

One text message with a misspelling said the feature was engaging “itself like craxy.” Another termed the problem “egregious.”

Another indicated that the Boeing employees misled the Federal Aviation Administration. “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” read one message.

“It wasnt a lie, no one told us that was the case,” came the response.

the national interest

the national interest

Trump Writes Unhinged ‘Legal’ Letter Demanding That CNN Pay Him Money

By Jonathan Chait

Trump’s authoritarian side and his toddler side are both on display here.

Pompeo thinks its unfair that House Democrats won’t let State Department attorneys gather inside information on impeachment proceedings

Pompeo curtly declined to discuss Giuliani — “I have nothing to add,” he said — or Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted ambassador of Ukraine, who testified in the impeachment inquiry following a congressional subpoena. But America’s top diplomat took aim at the Democrats for what he sees as an unfair process, where state secrets are being put at risk and the department is being afforded little visibility into what its current and former employees are saying.

“They’re not letting State Department lawyers in the room … they have not let State Department lawyers be part of these hearings,” Pompeo said. “That’s unheard of … I haven’t seen you all report that.”

vision 2020

Late-Entry Third-Party Threats Haunt Democrats

By Ed Kilgore

The sudden talk about centrist billionaires and “Russian assets” entering the 2020 sweepstakes reflects Democratic nightmares and rivalries.

foreign interests

foreign interests

Boris Johnson’s Make-or-Break Saturday Session in Parliament

By Jonah Shepp

The U.K. Parliament will convene for a rare and historic weekend vote in what could be the climax of the Brexit saga.

Meanwhile, up in space

NASA reached a milestone on Friday morning when two Americans ventured out of the International Space Station to replace a power controller: The astronauts, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, had undertaken the first all-female spacewalk.

Shortly before 8 a.m., live video of the event showed two bulky white figures — first Ms. Koch, then Ms. Meir — emerging slowly from the space station, which glowed against the blackness of space.

The women could be heard talking to each other, and a helmet camera showed Ms. Meir’s view as she clambered along the outside of the space station on the way to her work station.

At one point, she could be seen crossing beneath the dangling feet of Ms. Koch. “Right beneath your feet, so don’t move down,” she said.

The spacewalk was expected to last for more than five hours.


What We Know About Trump’s Potential Senate Impeachment Trial

By Ed Kilgore

Impeachment trial procedures are an amalgam of constitutional provisions, standing Senate rules, and ad hoc procedures controlled by McConnell’s GOP.

Trump stands to profit off the kind of bigotry presidents used to denounce

Another anti-Muslim group has scheduled a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, prompting the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group to again ask the Trump Organization to cancel an event sponsored by such a group.

The Center for Security Policy, a Washington, DC think-tank whose founder, Frank Gaffney once suggested President Barack Obama was a Muslim and that Sharia law threatens American society, intends to host its annual Flame Dinner at Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 23. Tickets for the event start at $650, according to the Center’s website.

Fred Fleitz, the Center’s president and CEO, said the group was not deterred by the Trump Organization’s abrupt decision on Oct. 6 to cancel an event hosted by another anti-Muslim group, ACT for America, after news of that group’s dinner plans grabbed national headlines and drew widespread criticism.

“We are honored to have this event at Mar-a-Lago,” said Fleitz, adding that he has dined at the club many times.

Former Defense Secretary Mattis saved his Trump jabs for the Al Smith dinner

Delivering the keynote address at the 75th Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York, Mattis — a retired four-star U.S. Marine general — said he felt he had finally “achieved greatness.”

“I’m not just an overrated general, I am the greatest, the world’s most overrated,” he said to laughter.

“I’m honored to be considered that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress,” Mattis continued. “So, I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals. Frankly that sounds pretty good to me.”

… “I earned my spurs on the battlefield … Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor,” he said in a reference to a medical deferment for bone spurs that kept Trump from serving in the military during the Vietnam War.

world view

Trump Is Letting Turkey Bully the United States

By Heather Hurlburt

The U.S. delegation got to announce a Syria cease-fire, but only after Ankara gave them a taste of the humiliation that weak nations endure regularly.


7 Unhinged Moments From Trump’s Dallas Rally

By Matt Stieb

Trump said that forces in Syria need to “scrap a little” and that Hurricane Harvey made Texas a “fortune,” though it killed over 100 people.

federal courts

As Trump Fumes, GOP Advances Party Goal of Appointing Lifetime Federal Judges

By Matt Stieb

The Senate Judiciary advanced the nomination of a lawyer who has never tried a case, a reminder of why the GOP Establishment tolerates Trump.

trump impeachment

trump impeachment

Poll: Only a Minority of Republicans Are Sure Trump Is Innocent

By Ed Kilgore

New findings from Pew suggest there are more Democrats certain Trump committed impeachable offenses than Republicans who are certain he didn’t.


America Owed Better to Elijah Cummings

By Zak Cheney-Rice

The congressman died trying to protect vulnerable Americans from Trump.

intelligencer chats

intelligencer chats

Is Annoying People the Right Way to Combat Climate Change?

By Benjamin Hart and David Wallace-Wells

Intelligencer staffers discuss the intentionally divisive tactics of an upstart movement.

climate change

Florida GOP Regrets ‘Lost’ Decade on Climate Change

By Matt Stieb

The party is recovering from Rick Scott’s ban on using the phrase “climate change” ⁠— though isn’t quite ready to embrace climate policy.

Rikers Island is set to close, in a momentous change to New York’s prison system

One 886-bed jail will tower over shops and restaurants in Downtown Brooklyn. Another will be next to a subway yard in Queens. In the Bronx, a jail will replace a Police Department tow pound. And another jail will rise in the shadow of City Hall in Manhattan.

That is at the heart of a plan for a landmark overhaul of New York City’s corrections system, which will culminate with the closing of Rikers Island, the jail complex with nearly 10,000 beds that has become notorious for chronic abuse, neglect and mismanagement.

The City Council approved the proposal on Thursday, a decision that seemed nearly impossible just a few years ago and that supporters say immediately places New York City at the forefront of a national movement to reverse decades of mass incarceration that disproportionately affected black and Hispanic people.

Read More

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.