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A Look At The Implications Of Outing A Government Whistleblower


In August, a nine-page letter landed on the desks of the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees. This was the whistleblower complaint now at the center of the impeachment inquiry. So far, the identity of that whistleblower has been kept secret. This is despite the efforts of President Trump.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false story.

KELLY: So what are the implications of outing a whistleblower? That's a question I want to put to Jesselyn Radack, who has been a whistleblower. Back when she was a lawyer at the Justice Department, she filed a complaint that the government was mistreating John Walker Lindh, the man known as the American Taliban.

Well, Jesselyn Radack now represents whistleblowers as an attorney, and she joins me now. Welcome.

JESSELYN RADACK: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: I wonder if you can boil it down just to the essence - to a few sentences, what is your answer to President Trump? Why not name this whistleblower?

RADACK: Because anonymity is the backbone of every whistleblower protection law that's out there right now. People obviously are very reluctant to come forward because they fear precisely the kind of retaliation that President Trump is unfortunately exhibiting. Whistleblowers are already chilled in a variety of different ways. But to have the president of the United States making these kinds of threats will make anyone think twice.

KELLY: Under the laws designed to govern when someone files a whistleblower complaint, what protections, legally, is the whistleblower supposed to enjoy?

RADACK: Most of these laws (laughter) basically say that when you make a disclosure, the government may not retaliate against you. And usually, that would include things like demotion or firing or, in recent cases, unfortunately, referring people for criminal prosecution.

KELLY: Do the protections for a whistleblower depend on what part of the government they work for? Is the scenario different if you work at CIA versus Justice Department versus the Pentagon or - and so on?

RADACK: Absolutely. It may be counterintuitive, but professionals in the national security and intelligence agencies have the least whistleblower protection. In other words, the most consequential whistleblowers that we've seen are precisely the ones who have the least protection. National security and intelligence revelations have revealed the biggest secrets of this government, including torture, secret surveillance and drone killings.

KELLY: Do we assume that all whistleblowers are automatically telling the truth? Or are some of the protections you've described, do they stop applying if it comes out that the whistleblower was making something up?

RADACK: A whistleblower only has to have a reasonable belief. Now, if the whistleblower is outright lying, then obviously you don't need to go forward with their complaint. And they could actually be prosecuted for making false statements.

KELLY: What are the legal consequences if someone reveals the identity of a whistleblower?

RADACK: There are no consequences. There are no enforcement mechanisms. So when someone does retaliate against a whistleblower - and part of that retaliation can include revealing their identity - there is no consequence.

KELLY: I can hear, I think, in your voice the emotion as you discuss this. And as somebody who's been a whistleblower, do you have any advice for this current whistleblower?

RADACK: The amazing thing about this current whistleblower is that they are still employed, that they have strong congressional support, that they are represented by counsel. They also seem to have the support of the media, which has also been a huge challenge because, usually, the government declares someone a traitor or a turncoat. And we still see that narrative. You still see the traitor versus hero debate going on.

KELLY: That is Jesselyn Radack. She was a whistleblower. She's now a whistleblower attorney with

Thank you.

RADACK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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