Aside from the second allegation, there is nothing new we have learned from the complaint. A rough transcript of the July 25 phone call was released Wednesday for all to read. The information in the third section is either standard operating procedure in this White House (Trump’s unpredictability regularly leads foreign governments to seek guidance from administration officials on how to proceed) or reflects what we already know, that Giuliani plays an unusual and disturbing role in this matter. The fourth is simply recitation of matter already in the public domain.
As a result, Democrats now have a difficult choice to make. The wisest course of action would probably be to drop the complaint as a significant piece of evidence, since it raises almost nothing new. That would be politically embarrassing since they have made so much of it, but they could claim that the whistleblower’s job has been done since it unearthed the alleged wrongdoing and placed it in the public domain.
The alternative course sets the Democrats on a dangerous path. If the whistleblower’s complaint is probative of impeachment, then the whistleblower must testify to find out who gave the person the information that is described. That cannot be done without Republicans present and likely means the whistleblower’s identity must be disclosed. It is one thing to keep that person’s identity secret when the matter is largely handled internally; it is quite another when it is being used to try to remove the democratically elected leader of our nation. The accused must have a chance to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him, and that right applies as much to Trump as it does to anyone accused of wrongdoing.
Investigation of the whistleblower’s allegations also inserts the House Democrats into the deepest workings of the administration, such as the alleged discussions among White House officials to “lock down” records of the phone call. The president would be remiss if he did not assert executive privilege over these discussions. That will inevitably present Democrats with a Hobson’s choice: Either delay the impeachment hearings to fight such assertions of privilege in court or drop the matter to proceed to a vote without having all the evidence before it. Neither will help them achieve their likely aim: the swift resolution to impeach the president before the election year starts in earnest.
Republicans will surely want to probe the whistleblower’s connection to his or her lead attorney, Andrew Bakaj, if the complaint remains relevant. Bakaj has worked for three Democratic senators and, curiously, once served at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The complaint is dated Aug. 12 and alleges that the whistleblower has received facts from “more than half a dozen U.S. officials” relating to the president’s purported misdeeds “over the past four months,” i.e., since sometime in April. Bakaj donated to Democratic campaigns through Act Blue on April 26; the Washington Free Beacon reports one donation was earmarked for — you guessed it — Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. These facts could be coincidental, but don’t expect Republicans and the conservative media to let them go unnoticed.
Republicans would also be wise to read the complaint carefully. The author distinguished between “White House officials” and “U.S. officials.” The former group are clearly political appointees, but the latter group could include career government employees. The complainant only identifies “White House officials” as sources of his information in connection with the July 25 call and subsequent alleged use of the alternate storage system. All other information the person recounts, including the “facts” that started the complainant’s concerns, come from “U.S. officials.” Expect Republicans to try to uncover who these people are, and expect the president’s media defenders to allege this is further proof of the “deep-state conspiracy” against Trump.
The fire this whistleblower sparked is now raging throughout the capital. In fanning those flames, the Democrats might find they can neither control the conflagration’s course nor prevent the whistleblower from getting burned.