Originally Published: Van Wert Times Bulletin | By Michael Anne Johnson

It began with a July 25, 2019 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. During that call, Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden in exchange for releasing funds for Ukraine’s defense—funds which had been already appropriated by Congress.

A concerned “whistleblower” with knowledge of the conversation, confidentially disclosed it to the Intelligence Inspector General (IG), who investigated and reported his findings to Congress.

Recognizing the importance of whistleblowers inside government, Congress has enacted legislation to protect their identities and prohibit retaliation. See generally, Whistleblower Protection Act and Inspector General Act of 1978. Trump was irate that a whistleblower had revealed circumstances surrounding to conversation and that the House of Representatives was considering impeachment. Trump unlawfully revealed the identity of the alleged whistleblower in a retweet, opening a door to retaliation. The whistleblower name eventually was removed.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European Affairs at the National Security Council, was subpoenaed by the House to testify about the Ukraine call, as were other NSC and State Department officials. The testimonies of diplomats Marie Yovanovitch, Fiona Hill and Ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland, among others, were consistent with the whistleblower’s account and call audiotape. Yet the Senate did not permit witnesses and acquitted Trump. In retaliation, Trump fired Vindman from NSC and blocked his promotion to colonel. Vindman, who received a Purple Heart for wounds received in the war in Iraq, resigned from the military. Trump fired Vindman’s twin brother Lt. Col.Yevgeny Vindman , a White House attorney and NSC staff member, Sondland, and well as the IG who investigated and reported to Congress the whistleblower‘s disclosure.


Trump’s handling of the Ukraine incident–and actions against whistleblowers and IGs responsible for investigating reports of wrongdoing– not only constitute retaliation, but potentially damage our nation’s whistleblower witness protection system, which was set in place to provide a safe way to reveal the misdeeds of government officials.

However, whistleblowers have since come forward in record numbers—73 disclosures relating to the pandemic alone. Rick Bright, the former head of an office developing the vaccine, filed a complaint after revealing the dangers of the virus and potential harm of hydroxychloroquine. Trump also fired IGs investigating pandemic problems. The Department of Health and Human Service’ acting IG was fired when she reported hospitals’ lack of critical medical supplies, as was the Department of Defense’s acting IG, after being peer-selected to lead a panel overseeing pandemic economic relief.

Serious intelligence misconduct is alleged in recent disclosures. Brian Murphy, former head of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), alleged that the acting DHS head told him not to disseminate a report on Russian 2020 election interference. Another DHS official ordered modification of an assessment of white supremacists (a threat also described by the FBI). Trump’s minions are hard at work to assure that only Trump’s narrative on critical topics see the light of day.

Trump fired two other IGs. At the behest of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State IG was fired while reportedly looking into Pompeo’s use of employees for personal business and investigating possible wrongdoing in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Department of Transportation’s IG was terminated while investigating allegations that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao used favoritism when awarding contracts in husband Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. Trump fired five IGs within six weeks, while within the previous 20 years, a president had fired only one.

Why have whistleblowers come forward despite the clear risk of retaliation? And why have so many IGs risked careers for their whistleblower and other investigations? The answers are simple: they are concerned public servants intolerant of misconduct by the self-serving Trump administration.

Whistleblowers and the IGs who investigate disclosures provide the ultimate check and balance within the executive branch. Without these truth tellers and protection of their roles, the government descends into a morass where only president’s interests are protected.

We must cut out this cancer on our country caused by Donald Trump’s contempt for truth and desecration of treasured democratic norms. Trump must be defeated and Joe Biden elected president.

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Michael Anne Johnson was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland for 22 years and a member of the Department of Justice trial team that denaturalized John Demjanjuk, the notorious Nazi concentration camp guard. She is a team member and speaker for Operation Grant.

Email Operation Grant for Ohio rise@operationgrant.org