WASHINGTON, D.C. - When Rand Paul, a sitting United States Senator, called on the media to out the whistleblower at the heart of the impeachment inquiry Monday night before later suggesting to reporters he might be willing to reveal the name himself, he was swiftly condemned.
"Do your job and print his name!" Kentucky's junior Senator said before a stadium full of President Trump's supporters.
"It would be at least certainly a departure from the black letter and the spirit of the law," said M. Tia Johnson, a professor at Georgetown Law and a former military lawyer who has advised whistleblowers of their rights in the past.
Johnson, who served as the Department of Homeland Security's Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs in the Obama administration, says Paul is entering uncharted territory with his interpretation of the whistleblower statute. Paul argues the law only protects a whistleblower from having his or her name revealed by an inspector general and that no one else is under any legal obligation to protect the individual.
"He’s correct in that regard because the law never contemplated that the lawmakers or the president, who has the constitutional responsibility to make sure the laws are faithfully executed, that they would be the ones trying to reveal the identity of a whistleblower," she said.
"You look at what is the legislative intent. You look at the legislative history. The whole intent behind these laws was to encourage federal employees to be able to come forward to report fraud, waste or abuse or what they perceive to be violations of the law. The way that you encourage employees to do that is both through identity protection as well as to protect them from potential retaliation or reprisals by their employer," she added.
If Paul does in fact expose the whistleblower, Johnson predicts he will be met with legal challenge.
"Any good attorney could argue that is reprisal or retaliation," she said.
The laws aimed to protect whistleblowers are facing unprecedented circumstances.
When Spectrum News 1 asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about whistleblower protections this week, he refused to answer our question.
"I’m not going to comment sort of on a routine daily basis on all that is breaking surrounding this story over in the House," said McConnell.
The record reflects McConnell did in fact vote in favor of the original Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.
Johnson believes Congress may soon move to update whistleblower laws to make them more clear in the wake of heightened scrutiny.
"If Congress is going to be the one that is going to unmask these whistleblowers, then it is going to have a direct chilling effect on their ability to get information from federal whistleblowers. Who is going to come forward when the ultimate source of where the information goes is going to reveal your identity?"