October 4, 2019

US – RSF condemns Trump’s threats against Ukraine whistleblower

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns in the strongest of terms President Trump’s threats against the whistleblower who says Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. RSF calls on Congress to do everything in its power to protect his identity as required under US law.

President Trump has been engaged in an aggressive harassment campaign against an anonymous CIA officer since details emerged in mid-September of his whistleblower complaint. The complaint alleged that the president pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his main political rivals in the 2020 presidential election. This whistleblower complaint has become the basis for an impeachment inquiry led by the House of Representatives.

During an October 2 press conference with the Finnish president, Trump told reporters, “This country has to find out who that person was because that person’s a spy, in my opinion.” This came less than a week after the president made a similar suggestion during a meeting at the United Nations during which he said that “in the old days … we used to handle it a little differently than we do now,” an allusion to execution. In a September 28 letter to the intelligence community inspector general, the whistleblower’s lawyer expressed concerns about his client’s safety, making specific reference to a $50,000 bounty issued by private individuals for details relating to the whistleblower’s identity. 

“It’s unconscionable and absolutely counter to the nation’s best interests that the president of the United States would endanger the safety of a public servant who has come forward with valuable information to the public interest,” said Dokhi Fassihian, Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “Congress must ensure his protection in the face of these threats.”

Under the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, whistleblowers are permitted to use established channels to report concerns about potential misconduct in exchange for the guarantee that they are protected from reprisals. As the impeachment proceedings unfold, lawmakers from the congressional intelligence committees say the whistleblower is willing to testify to provide more information about his complaint.

“As it becomes increasingly likely that this whistleblower will give a classified testimony before Congress, it is critical that US lawmakers uphold their legal obligation to protect his identity, especially as he has already faced threats against his life,” Fassihian said. “Whistleblowers must be able to safely come forward with information related to the public interest, and particularly at a time when the US government has tightened its grip on information accessible to citizens. It is imperative that we ensure his protection.”

The United States is ranked 48th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after dropping three places in the last year.