Laurence Tribe: "Rand Paul's effort to name the whistleblower in the Senate trial was disgraceful"

To the annoyance of some of Republicans, Paul composed at least one question directly naming the purported official

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 30, 2020 12:48PM (EST)

Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe criticized the attempt made by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to name the alleged whistleblower who exposed the Ukraine scandal during President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate as a "shameful gambit" of "dubious legality."

"Rand Paul's effort to name the whistleblower in the Senate trial was disgraceful. Doing so would have been of dubious legality and of no utility," Tribe told Salon by email Thursday. "The speech and debate clause would have shielded Senator Paul from concrete adverse consequences, but the harm his shameful gambit could've done not just to the whistleblower but to the important public service that whistleblowers perform would've been incalculable."

He added, "Chief Justice Roberts did exactly the right thing in refusing to play along with the reckless senator and was certainly right to treat Paul's proposed question as out of bounds."

Roberts blocked Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., from asking questions Wednesday which would have potentially outed the alleged whistleblower. Roberts had signaled to senators that they the whistleblower would not be named during the question-and-answer session. Paul, who opposes Trump's impeachment and has repeatedly named the alleged whistleblower in media interviews, nonetheless resisted.

To the annoyance of some of his fellow Republicans, Paul composed at least one question directly naming the purported whistleblower, according to Politico. Because Roberts is able to screen questions before they are asked, he can act to prevent the alleged whistleblower from being outed. The move prompted Paul to claim that he was not allowed to ask questions about the origin of the Ukraine investigation.

"I don't want to have to stand up to try and fight for recognition," Paul reportedly said after his question was rejected.

Paul's adamance on being able to name the alleged whistleblower is not shared by many of his Republican colleagues, with both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota saying the individual should not be named during the trial.

"It's still an ongoing process," Paul told reporters regarding his ultimate ability to ask questions naming the alleged whistleblower. "It may happen tomorrow."

The catalyst behind Trump's impeachment was a phone call that he placed to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25 in which he solicited the European leader to investigate his political rivals. At the same time, Trump put a hold on $391 million in military aid to Ukraine allocated by the Congress. An unnamed whistleblower filed a complaint about that call, which triggered the political scandal that culminated in Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives.

The president himself has tried to out the whistleblower, including attempts to name him on Twitter last month. Tribe told Salon at the time that "yes," Trump had violated law in doing so. 

"The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (ICWPA) outlaws actions by government officials or agencies that directly or indirectly encourage retaliatory actions against employees who legitimately perform a whistleblower role in the intelligence community, as the whistleblower in this case clearly did regarding a matter of urgent concern, as determined by the inspector general," he said.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Furthering John Roberts Laurence Tribe Politics Rand Paul Trump Impeachment