House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff had a tense exchange with Congressman Devin Nunes on Tuesday morning after the Republican lawmaker asked senior US National Security Council staffer Alexander Vindman about the identity of the whistleblower who made the complaint against President Trump. The incident was caught on camera.
After Nunes asked Vindman to narrow down which of America’s 17 intelligence agencies the complaint came from, Schiff jumped in before the army officer could respond.
“If I could interject here, we don’t want to use these proceedings – we need to protect the whistleblower,” Schiff said. “I want to make sure that there’s no effort to out the whistleblower through the use of these proceedings,” he added, saying he would “advise the witness” not to reveal the whistleblower’s identity.
🚨🚨 Schiff just shut down Ranking Member @DevinNunes to advise one of his star witnesses on how to answer a question about the whistleblower.— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) November 19, 2019
But Schiff likes to claim he doesn't know who the whistleblower is... So then how would he know Nunes is asking about the whistleblower? pic.twitter.com/QT06yMcRC7
Nunes told the witness that he had the right to answer his question, or plead the Fifth Amendment, with Vindman refusing to answer. “Per the advice of my counsel, I have been advised not to answer specific questions about members of the intelligence community,” Vindman said.
“Are you aware that this is the intelligence committee that’s conducting an impeachment hearing?” Nunes asked.
“Of course I am,” Vindman responded.
“Wouldn’t the appropriate place for you to come to testify would be the intelligence committee about someone within the intelligence community?” Nunes insisted.
“Ranking member, per the advice of my counsel, and the instructions from the chairman, I’ve been advised not to provide any specifics on who I have spoken to inside the intelligence community,” Vindman said.
Republican congressman Steve Scalise took to Twitter to report the curious exchange, and to call out Schiff, who has previously claimed that he does not know the whistleblower’s identity.
“Schiff likes to claim he doesn’t know who the whistleblower is…So then how would he know Nunes is asking about the whistleblower?” Scalise asked.
Congressman Lee Zeldin had a similar question.
If Adam Schiff & LTC Vindman don’t know who the “whistleblower” is, how would they know that naming the one person LTC Vindman spoke to in the intelligence community would out the “whistleblower”? 🤔— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) November 19, 2019
Last week, Schiff told Republican representative Jim Jordan that he had no idea who the whistleblower was and would work to ensure that his or her identity remain protected.
Vindman, a Kiev-born NSC specialist on Ukraine, became the subject of national attention in late October, when he told the House in closed testimony that unidentified “outside influencers” had been promoting a “false and alternative narrative of Ukraine” which was “harmful to US national security.”
The back and forth exchange between Schiff and Nunes led to a flurry of speculation among media observers, who accused Schiff of obfuscating the facts about the whistleblower, as well as his alleged “statutory right to anonymity.”
Chairman Schiff just said again, this time in public hearing, that the whistleblower has 'a statutory right to anonymity.' That is simply not correct. From ICWPA: https://t.co/5GfR5cBtPb pic.twitter.com/Pduxp8Av7V— Byron York (@ByronYork) November 19, 2019
🚨HOLY SMOKES 🚨— Benny (@bennyjohnson) November 19, 2019
This exact moment is when we know the impeachment hearings are a farce:
Schiff, Vindman: We do not know the identity of the whistleblower
GOP: So how will you know if we name him?
Schiff, Vindman: STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! HE'S A GREAT GUY. IT HURTS HIS FEELINGS pic.twitter.com/6Fn0n5dzO4
Republicans have previously suggested that it was critical to reveal the whistleblower’s identity in order to judge whether his or her complaint about Trump has any merit. Earlier this month, Republican Senator Rand Paul said that “nobody should be prosecuted based on an anonymous accusation.” Republican Senator Josh Hawley said that if the impeachment inquiry moves to the Senate, he wanted to know who the whistleblower was, asking: “How else are we going to evaluate the content and the truthfulness of these people if we don’t know who they are?”
Vindman was one of four officials to testify on Tuesday in the ongoing public hearings. The others were Jennifer Williams, foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Tim Morrison, former National Security Council official on Russia and Europe policy, and Kurt Volker, the former US special representative to Ukraine.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives began public hearings in the impeachment probe against President Trump last week, after kicking off the impeachment inquiry against the president in September following the complaint of a mystery intelligence community whistleblower who accused Trump of abusing his office by allegedly pressuring Ukraine’s president to restart an investigation into the possible illegal activities of Hunter Biden in Ukraine. Democrats allege that Trump threatened to withhold some $400 million in military aid to Ukraine unless the Biden investigation was restarted, and have characterised this as an illegal ‘quid-pro-quo’ attempt to ‘get dirt’ on former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s potential rival in 2020.
Trump has denied all claims of wrongdoing and called the impeachment process a “witch hunt.” Republicans have accused Biden and the Obama administration of engaging in illegal ‘quid-pro-quo’ activity of their own, given that the prosecutor investigating Hunter Biden and Ukrainian energy company Burisma was fired during Joe Biden’s visit to Kiev in 2016. Biden is on the record bragging about how he put pressure on then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to get the prosecutor fired, but has said that this was related to US concerns about Ukraine ‘backsliding on democracy.’