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Team Trump's targeting of whistleblower seen as 'thuggery'

Team Trump's campaign against the whistleblower isn't just a distraction; it's also an intimidation campaign against this and other witnesses.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was asked yesterday whether the intelligence community whistleblower who helped trigger the impeachment inquiry should be exposed to the public. "That's strictly up to the whistleblower," the senator replied.

The Iowa Republican added, "All I want to do is make sure the law is followed. A person like me that has advocated for whistleblowers for a long period of time, including this whistleblower, I want maximum protection for whistleblowers. The law protects the whistleblower."

Grassley's GOP brethren appear to have adopted a very different kind of posture.

Sen. Rand Paul demanded the news media print the name of the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump during a rally Monday night in Kentucky."We also now know the name of the whistleblower. The whistleblower needs to come forward as a material witness because he worked for Joe Biden at the same time Hunter Biden was getting money from corrupt oligarchs," the Kentucky Republican said after being invited onto the stage by Trump, referring to unverified reports circulating through conservative outlets.... To loud cheers from the audience, Paul continued, "I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name."

The man who was standing alongside Rand Paul at the time has been almost hysterical on this point, tweeting obsessively about the intelligence community's whistleblower. On Sunday, in brief remarks to reporters, Trump went on to make a series of specific claims about the whistleblower, before adding that he has no idea whether the claims are true.

He nevertheless added that journalists "ought to release" the person's identity.

I especially enjoyed this presidential comment, in which he seemed to talk himself into making a ridiculous charge: "The whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false stories. Some people would call it a fraud. I won't go that far. But when I read it closely, I probably would."

This offensive has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Trump, Rand Paul, and their allies don't seem to care that the whistleblower told the truth. They're similarly indifferent to the legal protections that are supposed to be extended to the person who helped expose White House wrongdoing.

So why is it, exactly, that so many Republicans have embraced this crusade? In part as a means of distraction: trying to make the identity of the whistleblower relevant, when it's not, is vastly easier than defending the president's alleged misconduct.

But it's just as important to recognize the intimidation campaign against this and other witnesses. Trump World wants to leave little doubt in the minds of those who know about the president's apparent misdeeds that they will become targets if they come forward and tell the truth.

It's what led George Conway, a conservative lawyer and prominent voice on Twitter, to write, "The attempts to out the whistleblower, apart from being illegal and substantively pointless, amount to despicable thuggery being encouraged by the president of the United States."

In a pair of tweets, Michael R. Bromwich, the former inspector general at the Department of Justice, added, "Outing the whistleblower has become the GOP's white whale. It has no legitimate purpose. The consequences would be far-reaching and destructive--creates more personal risk to the whistleblower and deters reports of corruption and malfeasance.... Repeated attempts to unmask a whistleblower who is protected by law, and publicly urging others to do so? Seems like a high crime and misdemeanor."