Politics & Government

Devin Nunes demands Trump whistleblower testify at public impeachment hearings

Rep. Devin Nunes is demanding the impeachment inquiry include the questioning of the whistleblower who originally called attention to President Donald Trump’s possible quid pro quo with Ukraine officials.

In a letter from Nunes and other Republicans to House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, Nunes requested that the anonymous whistleblower as well as anyone who was a source for the complaint testify before the committee.

“Because President Trump should be afforded an opportunity to confront his accusers, the anonymous whistleblower should testify,” Nunes wrote.

His request sets up a showdown with Schiff ahead of public impeachment hearings that are scheduled to begin next week.

Under House rules for impeachment, Nunes, R-Tulare, has the right as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee to request witnesses testify before the committee. But his requests are subject to Schiff’s approval and a vote of the full committee, which is controlled by Democrats.

The whistleblower’s complaint centered on a July phone call in which President Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter.

According to the complaint, people who learned about the call were alarmed because they interpreted the exchange as Trump withholding promised military aid from Ukraine unless Zelensky announced an investigation into the son of Trump’s domestic political rival.

Nunes’ witness requests for the impeachment hearings include other Democratic figures, such as Hunter Biden and a former Democratic National Committee employee who reportedly sought information about Trump from Ukranian sources during the 2016 election.

Schiff indicated in a statement later in the day that he was considering Republicans’ requests, but hinted that there would likely be issues with attempts to make the whistleblower testify.

“This inquiry is not, and will not serve, however, as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the President’s effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm,” Schiff said.

Schiff said last month that protecting the whistleblower was a priority for the committee. About a dozen witnesses have spoken to the Intelligence Committee so far, and Democrats have said their testimony could make an appearance from the original whistleblower unnecessary.

Republicans, including Trump, have been campaigning to name the whistleblower for weeks. Reps. Nunes, Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, have said they’re trying to identify an important witness.

“We’d like to figure out who those witnesses should be so the American people can get the facts, get the truth and we know who these individuals are,” Jordan said last month. “It seems interesting to me that Chairman Schiff is so sensitive.”

Schiff has called about a dozen witnesses to closed-door hearings with three House committees. Several diplomats have testified that Trump appeared to be suspending military aid from Ukraine, as the whistleblower alleged.

“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told the House committees in an addendum to his testimony that Schiff released this week.

William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, also testified last week that he was told Trump wanted to suspend military aid the U.S. had pledged to Ukraine unless Ukraine officials publicly stated they would open an investigation.

Members of Congress should have a clear interest in protecting the identity of the whistleblower, said multiple intelligence and political experts.

Mieke Eoyang, vice president for Third Way’s National Security Program and a former staffer for Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, said she’d had recent conversations with people in the intelligence community who expressed concerns about preserving the congressional channel of reporting for whistleblowers.

“If whistleblowers feel they can’t come to Congress, it shuts down one of the only independent avenues for reporting concerns,” she said. “Instead, they’d feel they have to go to the press ... which could come with criminal charges. That’s raising the bar too high on reporting concerns.”

Nunes in the first two years of Trump’s administration was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. As recently as 2017, he was supportive of whistleblowers staying anonymous, as first reported by the Daily Beast. At a press conference announcing that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had agreed to testify before the committee, Nunes said those who volunteered information would be protected.

“We don’t talk about sources at this committee,” Nunes said in March 2017. “We want more people to come forward. The good thing is that we have continued to have people come forward, voluntarily, to this committee and we want to continue that and I will tell you that that will not happen if we tell you who our sources are and people that come to the committee.”

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.