But that hasn’t stopped Trump, his political allies and the conservative media from attempting to paint the whistleblower’s motives and accusations as purely partisan.
“They think I may have had a ‘dicey’ conversation with a certain foreign leader based on a ‘highly partisan’ whistleblowers statement,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 20, later telling reporters, “I don’t know the identity of the whistleblower, I just hear it’s a partisan person, meaning it comes out from another party, but I don’t have any idea.”
On Thursday, Trump reportedly groused that whoever gave the whistleblower information was basically “a spy” who would have been dealt with differently “in the old days,” The New York Times reported.
The whistleblower’s complaint, a copy of which Congress released Thursday, levels the disturbing claim that the president asked Ukraine for dirt on political rival Joe Biden and that the White House sought to “lock down” all records of the phone call during which this transpired.
The identity of the whistleblower remains known to very few. One of the handful of people to know the person’s name is the inspector general of the intelligence community who first received the complaint.
In an August letter revealing the complaint to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the inspector general noted that the whistleblower seemed to have personal politics opposing Trump, but said the “arguable” bias didn’t undermine the credibility of the complaint.
“Although the ICIG’s preliminary review identified some indicia of an arguable political bias on the part of the Complainant in favor of a rival political candidate, such evidence did not change my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern ‘appears credible.’”
The inspector general didn’t specify the scope of the review nor what those indications of bias were. And whistleblowers’ political leanings — in any direction — are not proof that they are exaggerating or fabricating their claims. Independent reporting and a summary of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president made public this week have corroborated much of the whistleblower’s complaint.
Trump’s supporters, though, are seizing on the whistleblower’s supposed bias to dismiss the entire complaint out of hand.
Kimberley Strassel, a Fox News contributor and member of the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board, highlighted the passage to conclude that the whole affair is simply “another internal attempt to take out a president, on the basis of another non-smoking-gun.”
Others used details about the attorneys aiding the whistleblower to paint the accusations as suspect.
The Washington Free Beacon dinged the main lawyer for the whistleblower, Andrew Bakaj, for donating $100 to Joe Biden and dug into his co-counsel’s past support for Hillary Clinton. Other conservative outlets aggregated the reporting with relish, with Townhall tutting, “Well, well, well what do we have here.”
On Thursday, when Maguire appeared before Congress for a dramatic hearing examining his handling of the complaint, Trump allies questioned the whistleblower’s means and motives.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) — who was briefly a candidate for Maguire’s job — strongly implied that the whistleblower’s bias was detectable because of his or her reliance on “mainstream” sources of news.
“Those sources happen to include mainstream media,” Ratcliffe said. “The sources that the whistleblower bases his complaints on include The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Hill, Bloomberg, ABC News, and others. In other words, much like the Steele dossier” — a notorious piece of anti-Trump opposition research — “the allegations in the whistleblower’s complaints are based on thirdhand mainstream media sources.”
Maguire said he believed the whistleblower “acted in good faith” in an unprecedented situation and followed the rules in place for calling out “urgent and important” misconduct.
“I believe the whistleblower followed the steps every step of the way,” Maguire said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article indicated Trump considered the whistleblower “a spy.” Trump was referring to the person who gave information to the whistleblower.