President Trump has been criticized after retweeting a post to his 68 million followers on Twitter that included a name linked to the alleged whistleblower whose complaint about the president’s dealings with Ukraine prompted the impeachment inquiry.
At the time of the complaint, the individual was an intelligence community official who sounded the alarm about Trump’s pressure campaign with Ukraine that House Democrats cited in impeaching the president for alleged abuse of power.
For months, media outlets that back the president have circulated the name of a person suspected of being the whistleblower. Sen. Rand Paul, Don Trump Jr. and other supporters have either shared the individual’s identity or called for the whistleblower to be outed.
The retweet marks the first time the president himself has publicly promoted the name of the person believed by some to be the whistleblower at the heart of the Ukraine scandal.
NPR, which has not independently confirmed the identity of the whistleblower, is not disclosing the name that appears in the post retweeted by the president.
It is not expressly illegal for the president to unmask the name of the whistleblower. There are, however, federal protections that prevent retaliation against whistleblowers.
Legal experts and government accountability advocates found the president’s Twitter post unnerving.
“By making public the unsubstantiated name of the whistleblower Trump encapsulated the pathology of his presidency,” said Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and former State Department analyst. “A callous and cruel disregard for the well-being of anyone or anything untethered from his own personal needs and interests.”
The president’s defenders found no issue with Trump spreading the name to millions of online followers, saying Trump has a right to fight back.
“The whistleblower absolutely ought to be known and testify. Look, they try to take out a sitting president,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. on Fox News Sunday.
Yet legal experts critical of the president worried about what kind of example Trump was setting by passing along the name of a person believed to have helped launch a major threat to his presidency.
“Who would want to live in a country where its leader could just name the identity of a whistleblower and invite retaliation against him?”asked Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general and now a law professor at Georgetown University.
Barbara McQuade, professor at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, was equally troubled by Trump’s retweet.
“Outing and shaming whistleblowers harms national security by discouraging government officials from using official channels to report abuses,” McQuade said. “Alternatives are leaks or, perhaps even worse, silence.”