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Trump Criticized After Sharing Name Of Alleged Whistleblower On Twitter

During a Christmas Eve video teleconference, President Trump speaks with members of the military from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
Andrew Harnik

President Trump has been criticized after retweeting a post to his 68 million followers on Twitter that included a name linked to the alleged whistleblower whose complaint about the president's dealings with Ukraine prompted the impeachment inquiry.

At the time of the complaint, the individual was an intelligence community official who sounded the alarm about Trump's pressure campaign with Ukraine that House Democrats cited in impeaching the president for alleged abuse of power.

For months, media outlets that back the president have circulated the name of a person suspected of being the whistleblower. Sen. Rand Paul, Don Trump Jr. and other supporters have either shared the individual's identity or called for the whistleblower to be outed.

The retweet marks the first time the president himself has publicly promoted the name of the person believed by some to be the whistleblower at the heart of the Ukraine scandal.

NPR, which has not independently confirmed the identity of the whistleblower, is not disclosing the name that appears in the post retweeted by the president.

It is not expressly illegal for the president to unmask the name of the whistleblower. There are, however, federal protections that prevent retaliation against whistleblowers.

Legal experts and government accountability advocates found the president's Twitter post unnerving.

"By making public the unsubstantiated name of the whistleblower Trump encapsulated the pathology of his presidency," said Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and former State Department analyst. "A callous and cruel disregard for the well-being of anyone or anything untethered from his own personal needs and interests."

The president's defenders found no issue with Trump spreading the name to millions of online followers, saying Trump has a right to fight back.

"The whistleblower absolutely ought to be known and testify. Look, they try to take out a sitting president," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. on Fox News Sunday.

Yet legal experts critical of the president worried about what kind of example Trump was setting by passing along the name of a person believed to have helped launch a major threat to his presidency.

"Who would want to live in a country where its leader could just name the identity of a whistleblower and invite retaliation against him?" asked Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general and now a law professor at Georgetown University.

Barbara McQuade, professor at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, was equally troubled by Trump's retweet.

"Outing and shaming whistleblowers harms national security by discouraging government officials from using official channels to report abuses," McQuade said. "Alternatives are leaks or, perhaps even worse, silence."

When asked on Fox News Sunday whether there was anything wrong with the president publicly sharing the name of the alleged whistleblower, Scalise suggested the individual's identity should not be shielded.

"This person had a political vendetta against the president," he said. "It's a little concerning that you could have somebody anonymously try to take down a sitting president using innuendo."

Twitter users noticed on Saturday morning that the post in question had vanished from the president's Twitter feed, leading some to think Trump had deleted the tweet containing the name. But then it reappeared, a reversal Twitter officials attributed to a technical glitch.

"Due to an outage with one of our systems, tweets on account profiles were visible to some, but not others. We're still working on fixing this and apologize for any confusion," the company said in a statement.

Some major tech companies, including YouTube and Facebook, have blocked the alleged whistleblower's name from appearing on its platforms. Twitter, however, has said that naming the individual would not violate the company's policies.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.