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Let’s Talk About the Whistleblower & What it Means for Impeachment

If you’ve managed to avoid hearing about the news that a whistleblower has come forward about a conversation between the President of the United States and Ukrainian political leaders, now is the time to buckle your seatbelts and get ready to be *shocked.*

This controversy has been thrust to the forefront of American political life, and it’s more important than ever to be well-versed on the road it’s taken, the legal background of it and where it’s likely to go next. 

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What is a “Whistleblower” in the first place? 

A whistleblower is defined as “a person who exposes secretive information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical or not correct.” Whistleblowers can come from private corporations or from government agencies, and they don’t necessarily have to work with the organization that they’re reporting.

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 was passed with the intention of giving federal employees the freedom to come forward about corrupt or illegal activity without fear of exposure. They can face legal action, criminal charges, social stigma, and termination from any position, office, or job, but they are an extremely important tool to holding the federal government accountable, making their protection integral to the continued health of our democracy.

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Can the whistleblower stay anonymous? Why would they want to?

There are numerous Federal laws protecting anonymous informants from being forced to reveal their identity and hold the Federal Government accountable dating all the way back to the 1930s. Thinking back to your history classes, in the Gilded Age of the early 1900s and the reign of the Party Bosses of the 1920s, the poisonous corruption running rampant in all levels of government was seldom reported for fear of being fired and blacklisted — essentially having your life and career ruined for doing the honorable thing.

The aforementioned Whistleblower Protection Act was passed for the sole reason of protecting anonymous informants from being subjected to the abuses of power that was all-too common in the past. With this in mind, it’s frankly extremely frightening that the President has been so vocal about his desire for the Whistleblower to shed their anonymity — be it voluntarily or not.

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What did the Whistleblower report?

The whistleblower reported that the President was allegedly withholding an aid package to Ukraine until they were able to provide him with information about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden with his personal lawyer, Rudy Guliani present — which is immoral at best and illegal at worst. 

As a general rule, a Head of State using foreign aid as collateral to gain information about a political opponent is common in a fascist or authoritarian system, not a democratic one. Activities like the what Trump is accused of are defined as “political malfeasance,” or an unlawful act done in an official capacity and is almost always grounds for removal from office.  

In the aftermath of the newly-announced impeachment investigation, the White House turned over the Whistleblower complaint to the House of Representatives and it has since been declassified and is available to read in its entirety.

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Related: 5 Fast Facts About the Impeachment Inquiry

Where did the complaint go before it was made public?

The whistleblower complaint was filed on August 12th to Intelligence Community Inspector General, Michael Atkinson. By law, Atkinson had exactly 14 days to review the complaint and make a decision about whether it was credible and had “urgent concern,” if he ruled in the affirmative it would be passed on to the Director of National Intelligence, a position currently filled Joseph Maguire. Once it reached his desk, he would have exactly one week to send the complaint to Congress, with the deadline being September 2nd.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the complaint never made it to Congress.

Following the missed deadline, Atkinson took matters into his own hands and informed several Congress members himself, including the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, accusing Maguire of refusing to inform Congress. Schiff subpoenaed Maguire and wrote in his own letter that he had “neither the legal authority nor the discretion” to determine that the complaint was not worth investigating and did not need to be forwarded to Congress. 

Following this, the Washington Post broke the story and brought it to the public’s attention, sending this house of cards tumbling down. 

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Is the conversation an impeachable offense?

The framers of the constitution were deliberately very vague about what constitutes an impeachable offense, simply listing “treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors.” In impeachment inquiries, the later is usually the avenue that Congress chooses to take and that is unlikely to be different. 

Former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, very helpfully surmised — and potentially told the future — by stating that, in this situation, the President was only truly in danger if he used the phrase “I need you to do me a favor” in his conversation with Ukrainian leaders, which he did. It is an executive privilege to ask foregin nations for information they may have about potentially corrupt activity relating to Americans, but it is not an executive privilege to do so with the intention of finding information on a political rival in order to gain an advantage in an election. It’s that key phrase, “do me a favor,” that tips the scales into a potentially impeachable offense warranting an investigation by the House of Representatives. 

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Related: Impeachment… What’s the Deal?

Will the President be removed from office?

Frankly, it’s highly unlikely. 

We commonly use the term ‘impeachment’ as a synonym for removal, but they couldn’t be more different. In an impeachment inquiry, the House of Representatives investigates to determine if there is evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. If they determine there is sufficient evidence, the House will enter into formal impeachment proceedings (which has not occurred yet) and a vote for formal articles of impeachment is held. 

If the articles pass with a majority in the House, a trial is usually — but not always! — held in the Senate with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. However, it is unlikely that the Republican-led Senate will hold a trial, let alone vote for removal, regardless of the House’s findings.

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Is impeachment even a good idea?

We won’t have an answer to this question yet, but historically, the jury is out. There are very few examples to look towards for guidance, but in the most recent process of Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 for lying under oath, the Republican healmed effort quickly turned from a politically popular idea to electoral suicide. 

While they were successful in impeaching the President, both houses of Congress flipped, effectively killing the party’s power and influence for years. 

Without enough polling and enough information currently available to the electorate, we may not see the effect that these impeachment proceedings will have until America takes to the ballot box in 2022. However, I would argue that it is the Constitutional duty of the House of Representatives to investigate the claim, regardless of the potential electoral outcome.

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Colliegettes, it’s never been more important to stay angry and — most importantly — stay informed. Your voice matters, it’s time to make sure you’re prepared to let it be heard, regardless of the outcome of this investigation.

Chloe Fischer

George Mason University '22

Chloe is majoring in Government and International Politics at George Mason University. She is currently the President and Campus Correspondent of Her Campus at George Mason University. Outside of Her Campus, she is also a founding member and the secretary of Ignite GMU, her university's chapter of Ignite, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young women to declare their ambition and ignite their political power.
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