Schiff slams GOP senators on whistleblower questions: 'Disgraceful'

"Members of this body used to care about the protection of whistleblower identities," Schiff told the senators.
Image: Senate Impeachment Trial Of President Trump Continues
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks to reporters in the Senate basement at the Capitol as the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continues on Jan. 30, 2020.Zach Gibson / Getty Images

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By Dareh Gregorian

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on Thursday ripped into several Republican senators during the Senate impeachment trial after they suggested his staff worked with the anonymous whistleblower who raised red flags about the president's July phone call with Ukraine's president.

The question, from Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and others, asked about allegations that National Security Council staffers had said they had to "take out the president," and that one of those people now works with Schiff and has a relationship with the whistleblower.

The senators named one of Schiff's staffers and asked what role that person had in the investigation.

"First of all, there have been a lot of attacks on my staff. As I said when this issue came up earlier, I am appalled at some of the smearing of some of the professional people that work in the intelligence committee," Schiff snapped. "I will not dignify those smears on my staff by giving them any credence whatsoever."

Cruz and another Republican senator, Mike Lee of Utah, also named two of Schiff's staffers Wednesday in a question about the whistleblower.

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tried to ask a question that Chief Justice John Roberts refused to read because it included the name of a person who has been identified in right-wing media as the whistleblower.

"I want to be very clear about something. Members of this body used to care about the protection of whistleblower identities. They didn't use to gratuitously attack members of committee staff. But now they do," Schiff said. "I think that's disgraceful."

Ernst could be seen smirking as Schiff spoke.

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's personal lawyers who is on the defense team, in response slammed Schiff for not answering the question.

"We can’t just say it's not a relevant inquiry to know who on the staff that conducted the primary investigation here was in communication with the whistleblower," Sekulow said, noting that Schiff had initially expressed interest in having the whistleblower testify behind closed doors.

Schiff has said he changed course on that after the president released a call summary of his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy because that rendered the testimony irrelevant. He has also cited Trump and his allies' repeated attacks and demands to unmask the whistleblower as a potential safety concern.

Paul, who was given an award for his work protecting whistleblowers in 2013, has repeatedly called for the Ukraine whistleblower to be identified publicly. Paul's version of the Johnson question included the name of the person who's been alleged to be the whistleblower but did not identify the person as the whistleblower.

"I think this is an important question, one that deserves to be asked," Paul told reporters after Roberts declined to read it.

John Tye, CEO of the nonprofit law office Whistleblower Aid, issued a statement saying: “Senator Paul’s effort to out the whistleblower is reckless and intended to distract and intimidate, not educate. Attaching any name to the identity of the whistleblower, whether accurate or not, puts the named individual at tremendous personal risk.”

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.