In line with demands by Donald Trump, Rand Paul and others of their party, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee continue to display a fervent desire to expose the identity of the whistleblower who first alerted the country to Trump’s attempted extortion of the Ukraine government. Why? There is nothing to be learned from questioning the whistleblower: he (she) made no claim to having first-hand information, only information reported to him by others. And everything of importance reported by the whistleblower has since been confirmed in sworn testimony, in large part by individuals who did have first-hand information.
There are two obvious, mutually compatible explanations for the Republicans’ demand for the whistleblower’s identity. The first points to a thoroughly sleazy motivation. The second points to a motivation that is downright sinister.
The explanation that is merely sleazy: Republicans want to know who the whistleblower is so that they can have a target to attack in their effort to distract from the irresistible findings of the hearings. With luck, the whistleblower might have something in his background that would make him vulnerable to a smear campaign. This motivation is sleazy not only because the whistleblower’s background has nothing to do with his revelations, but also because it ignores the moral and legal obligation to protect whistleblowers from possible reprisals, both from superiors and from people outside of government. Already arrangements are being made for the physical protection of Alexander Vindman, a decorated army officer. Imagine the vulnerability of a mere intelligence official to the wrath of the many legions of hateful, fanatical Trump supporters.
The second obvious motivation is worse: Not only are Republicans indifferent to the obligation to protect the whistleblower; they actually want to expose him to retaliation by the Trump presidency and its minions. That would teach future possible whistleblowers and other dissenters within the government to think twice before crossing Trump. Does this explanation sound excessively cynical? I don’t think so. Congressional Republicans know as well as anyone that an identified whistleblower would be vulnerable to retaliation. It’s usually a fair assumption that a person’s knowledge of the likely consequences of his actions means that he intends those consequences. I don’t think you can resist the conclusion that this is, indeed, part of the explanation for the Republicans’ thirst for the whistleblower’s identity. They want his blood, figuratively if not literally.