Targeting whistleblower, Trump intensifies retaliation campaign

There are laws in place to protect those who report government wrongdoing from retaliation. Trump appears indifferent to the whistleblower protections.
Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum
US President Donald J. Trump attends a meeting with leaders from the steel and aluminum manufacturing industries in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, 01 March 2018. The President announced that he will impose stiff tariffs on steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum beginning next week.JIM LO SCALZO / EPA
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump has been away from the White House over the holidays, spending time at Mar-a-Lago, the private club he continues to own and profit from. Politico reported yesterday that the president "cuts loose" at the venue, where he's "comfortable" and feels "liberated."

In practical terms, that leads the Republican to tweet -- a lot -- without regard for limits or propriety.

There's no point in reviewing each of the 162 tweets Trump published since Christmas, though there were some doozies in there. The president retweeted all kinds of weird content from the crackpot fringe; he appeared to publish a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's house; and he even promoted an item that suggested he, unlike Barack Obama, was siding with Jesus of Nazareth.

The Atlantic's David Frum published a piece this past weekend that argued, "Trump's tweeting in the past two days was so frenzied and the sources quoted were so bizarre -- including at least four accounts devoted to the Pizzagate-adjacent conspiracy theory QAnon, as well as one that describes former President Barack Obama as 'Satan's Muslim scum' -- as to renew doubts about the president's mental stability."

There was, however, one item of particular interest. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump retweeted a post naming the alleged whistleblower who filed the complaint that became the catalyst for the congressional inquiry that resulted in his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

On Friday night, Trump shared a Twitter post from @surfermom77, who describes herself as "100% Trump supporter," with his 68 million followers. That tweet prominently named the alleged whistleblower and suggested that he had committed perjury.

A day later, the tweet no longer appeared in the president's timeline, though it's unclear who removed the item and why. (Due to a technical glitch, the tweet was visible to some, but not all, Twitter users.)

Regardless, the damage was done. On Dec. 26, Trump used Twitter to promote a Washington Examiner report that included the name of the CIA official believed to be the intelligence community whistleblower, and two days later, he upped the ante.

By some accounts, top White House officials have urged the president not to go after the alleged whistleblower by name. As of late last week, he apparently didn't much care about the warnings.

What's more, there are laws in place to protect those who report government wrongdoing from retaliation. Trump appears indifferent to whistleblower protections, too.

There's no great mystery about why these events have unfolded. The president blames the whistleblower for hitting the first domino that ultimately led to his impeachment, and Trump has spent months engaged in an escalating campaign of retaliation -- not because the whistleblower was wrong, but because the president resents having been caught.

What's more, Trump also apparently wants -- and perhaps, needs -- to send a signal to the rest of the federal bureaucracy: those who help expose White House wrongdoing will be the next to feel presidential wrath. Those weighing whether to do their duty or remain silent are supposed to notice Trump's not-so-subtle offensive.

As for the target of the president's ire, the Washington Post had a separate report last week, before Trump's latest Twitter antics, which noted, "The CIA analyst who triggered the impeachment inquiry continues to work on issues relating to Russia and Ukraine, but when threats against him spike -- often seemingly spurred by presidential tweets -- he is driven to and from work by armed security officers."

It's a safe bet the CIA official saw just such a spike six days ago.