Cipollone, Schiff Spar over Alleged Whistleblower-House Intel Coordination on Impeachment

POLITICS & POLICY
White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2020. (U.S. Senate TV/Handout via Reuters)

Chief White House counsel Pat Cipollone traded barbs with House Intelligence Committee Chairman and impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) over the alleged coordination between Schiff’s office and the intelligence-community whistleblower during Thursday’s question-and-answer period in President Trump’s impeachment trial.

Schiff was prompted by Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) and others asking about Schiff’s reported hiring of a contact of the whistleblower one day after President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Chief Justice Roberts — who is presiding over the Senate trial — blocked a different question from Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) earlier on Thursday, after it named the alleged whistleblower. Paul later defended the question as simply one about the possibility that “a group of Democratic activists” had prompted the whistleblower complaint as part of a plot coordinated “for years” to look “for an opportunity to impeach the president.”

“I am appalled at some of the smearing of the professional people that work for the Intelligence Committee,” Schiff replied to Johnson’s question. “ . . . I will not dignify those smears on my staff by giving them any credence whatsoever. Nor will I share any information which I believe could or could not lead to the identification of the whistleblower.”

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The California Democrat went on to call the question “disgraceful” and defended the importance of whistleblowers as “a unique and vital resource for the intelligence community.”

“When you jeopardize a whistleblower by trying to out them this way, then you are threatening not just this whistleblower, but the entire system,” Schiff warned Thursday. “Now, the president would like nothing better than that, and I’m sure the president is applauding this question, because he wants his pound of flesh, and he wants to punish anyone who has the courage to stand up to him.”

Following initial news of the whistleblower complaint in September, Schiff threatened to sue the White House for access to the complaint. Schiff also said in September that “we have not spoken directly with the whistleblower,” only for a report in October to detail how the whistleblower had communicated with Schiff’s staff before submitting the formal complaint.

“I can’t tell you who the whistleblower is, because I don’t know,” Schiff reiterated Thursday. “But I can tell you who the whistleblower should be: it should be every one of us. Every one of us should be willing to blow the whistle on presidential misconduct.”

Minutes, later, Cipollone challenged Schiff over his “puritanical rage,” and added that he had asked Schiff the same “legitimate question” in an October letter, but had received no response.

“I listened to Manager Schiff come up here and say he won’t even dignify a legitimate question about his staff with a response, because he won’t stand here and listen to people on his staff be besmirched, who will join his staff,” Cipollone stated. “ . . . So I think you deserve an answer to that question, and I think it’s time in this country that we stop assuming that everybody has horrible motives, in the puritanical rage of just everybody’s doing something wrong, except for you. ‘You cannot be questioned’ — that’s part of the problem here.”

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