The attorney for the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump sent the president a “cease and desist” letter warning of potential “legal” action if he does not stop attacking his client.
The letter said the president’s rhetoric has put the whistleblower and his family at risk and warned of “legal and ethical peril” if they are harmed as a result of Trump’s actions.
"I am writing out of deep concern that your client, the president of the United States, is engaging in rhetoric and activity that places my client, the Intelligence Community whistleblower, and their family in physical danger," attorney Andrew Bakaj wrote in a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Thursday. "I am writing to respectfully request that you counsel your client on the legal and ethical peril in which he is placing himself should anyone be physically harmed as a result of his, or his surrogates', behavior.”
The letter cited Trump’s September remark in which he compared the whistleblower to a spy and suggested he should be executed for treason. The letter also cited Trump's calls to the media to reveal the whistleblower’s identity.
Bakaj wrote that the president’s “rhetoric and behavior fall well beneath the dignity of the office.”
“These are not words of an individual with a firm grasp of the significance of the office which he occupies,” Bakaj wrote. “His calls to identify my client by name and his suggestion that he would support acts of violence against my client are, candidly, some of the most dangerous and reckless things a president of the United States can say.”
Bakaj wrote that Trump’s comments “seek to intimidate” the whistleblower and “they have.”
“As a direct consequence of the president’s behavior, my client’s physical safety became a significant concern,” he wrote, causing the whistleblower to back out of an in-person deposition in the impeachment probe.
Along with the president, the letter also named Trump’s “surrogates,” some of whom have taken it upon themselves to help spread the name of the purported whistleblower. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., this week called for the media to out the whistleblower while standing beside Trump at a rally, shortly after tweeting out a report that disclosed the name of a CIA analyst purported to be the whistleblower.
The president’s own son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted the name of the purported whistleblower earlier this week, as did Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a close ally of Trump. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., said the name at a public congressional hearing last month. Republican lawmakers have also repeatedly tried to get the whistleblower’s name on the record in impeachment proceedings in hopes that it will become public. A Fox News guest said the name live on air Thursday.
The White House tried to distance Trump from his son’s tweet, but the president has repeatedly called for the whistleblower to be outed. He suggested again Friday that the whistleblower and his lawyer should be “sued” for “treason.”
Trump and his allies have seized on a RealClearInvestigations report claiming that the purported whistleblower has “ties” to former Vice President Joe Biden. The alleged “ties” are confined to the report that the alleged whistleblower worked on the National Security Council on Ukraine issues under the Obama administration while Biden was the point man on Ukraine. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden, but Republicans claim that the “ties” suggest the whistleblower is part of a larger left-wing plot.
The problem with that narrative is that numerous Trump administration officials have corroborated all of the central points of the whistleblower’s report, as did a second whistleblower who later came forward. Multiple Trump appointees reviewed the complaint, found it “credible” and forwarded the whistleblower’s concerns to the Justice Department. White House and State Department officials have since confirmed to Congress that Trump tried to extort Ukraine into announcing investigations into Biden and Hillary Clinton while withholding military aid that had already been allocated by Congress.
The president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, who works in an official White House role, broke with her father and brother in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, arguing that the whistleblower’s identity was irrelevant to the impeachment proceedings.
"The whistleblower shouldn't be a substantive part of the conversation," she said, adding that his identity was “not particularly relevant.”