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Facebook deleting name of potential whistleblower at centre of Trump impeachment probe

The whistleblower’s lawyers have said their client’s personal safety is at risk following threats.

US President Donald Trump speaking during the launch of 'Black Voices for Trump' in Atlanta today.
US President Donald Trump speaking during the launch of 'Black Voices for Trump' in Atlanta today.
Image: Evan Vucci/AP/Press Association Images

FACEBOOK HAS SAID it is deleting the name of the person who has been identified in conservative circles as the whistleblower who triggered a congressional impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump.

The company today said that mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name violates Facebook’s “coordinating harm policy,” which prohibits material that could identify a “witness, informant, or activist”.

The whistleblower’s lawyers have said their client’s personal safety is at risk following threats. 

Facebook said it is removing mentions of the alleged whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision if the name is widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate.

On Twitter, however, the alleged whistleblower’s name was circulating widely today. The company does not have a policy against identifying whistleblowers by name and is not removing the posts.

Some of the stories identifying the person came from the conservative news site Breitbart, which Facebook counts as one of its news partners in a newly launched news section on its app. However, the company said it was also removing identifying posts on the whistleblower from Breitbart.

In a statement, Twitter said it prohibits the sharing of “personally identifiable information about any individual, including the alleged whistleblower”. But the company’s policy on such information does not consider a person’s name to be private information, a category that does include details such as a person’s address, contact information or medical records.

US whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Lawmakers in both parties have historically backed those protections.

Trump has avoided identifying the whistleblower to date but has said their identity should be revealed. 

Mick Mulvaney snub 

Separately, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney snubbed demands by House impeachment investigators to testify today, claiming immunity as a top aide to Trump.

As Trump again blasted the probe as “corrupt” and a “witch hunt”, Mulvaney rejected a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee to appear for a closed-door interview.

The brush-off came days ahead of Democrats taking their impeachment investigation public with what promises to be highly contentious open hearings in Congress starting on Wednesday.

The investigation has gathered evidence that Mulvaney was a key player in Trump’s alleged extortion of Ukraine to further his personal political goals.

Democrats have accused the president of withholding $391 million (about €355 million) in military aid to pressure strategic ally Ukraine into producing damaging information on Trump’s Democratic rivals, including former vice president Joe Biden who is now seeking the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.

Mulvaney, who is also acting head of the White House budget office, allegedly froze the money on Trump’s order one week before a now-infamous phone call with the president’s Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

A summary of the 25 July conversation released by the White House showed Trump asking for investigations into Biden and into a conspiracy theory that Ukraine helped the Democrats in the 2016 election.

Democrats say Trump abused his office and engaged in bribery and extortion in making those demands of Zelensky.

Trump has refused almost all cooperation, rejecting requests for executive branch records and banning White House staff from testifying, citing his executive privilege.

“This is a scam by the Democrats who want to win an election,” he told reporters today. 

“I would love for Mick to go up, frankly,” he said of Mulvaney.

Except one thing: it validates a corrupt investigation.

An avalanche of testimony from government officials has corroborated the allegations against Trump.

Democrats plan to invite back some of the dozen officials who have given evidence in private for the open impeachment hearings to begin at the House Intelligence Committee next week.

Those hearings could lead to formal charges, or articles of impeachment, being levelled against Trump by the House Judiciary Committee as early as late December.

Impeachment inquiry leader Adam Schiff has warned that the White House’s refusal to cooperate will be taken as evidence of guilt and also the basis for a charge of obstructing the investigation.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2019  and Órla Ryan

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