The whistleblower who raised the alarm about US president Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and sparked a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry is willing to answer written questions submitted by Republicans in US congress.
The offer made by the person’s lawyer over the weekend to congressman Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the intelligence committee, was aimed in part at fending off escalating attacks by Mr Trump and his party allies who are demanding the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed.
The move would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistleblower without having to go through the committee’s chairman, the Democrat Adam Schiff.
False stories are being reported that a few Republican Senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event. Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2019
The whistleblower’s lawyer Mark Zaid said: “Being a whistleblower is not a partisan job nor is impeachment an objective. That is not our role.
“We will ensure timely answers.”
Mr Zaid said the whistleblower would answer questions directly from Republican members “in writing, under oath and penalty of perjury”.
Only queries seeking the person’s identity would not be answered, he said.
The surprise proposal comes as Mr Trump stepped up attacks on the whistleblower as lacking credibility, tweeting on Sunday that the person “must come forward”.
The whistleblower raised concerns about Mr Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which the US leader pressed his counterpart to investigate his political rivals in the States.
The whistleblower’s second-hand account of the call has been providing a road map for House Democrats investigating whether the president and others in his orbit pressured Ukraine to probe political opponents, including former vice president Joe Biden.
Democrats are heading into a crucial phase of their impeachment inquiry as they aim to move toward public impeachment hearings later this month.
In the coming week, they have called in 11 witnesses, including energy secretary Rick Perry and former national security adviser John Bolton for closed-door interviews. It is unclear whether any of them will come to Capitol Hill.
“Reveal the Whistleblower and end the Impeachment Hoax!” Mr Trump tweeted.
He later pushed the news media to divulge the whistleblower’s identity, asserting that the person’s accounting of events is incorrect.
The whistleblower’s complaint has been corroborated by people with first-hand knowledge of the events who have appeared on Capitol Hill.
Our inquiry into @realDonaldTrump’s betrayal of his oath of office is deadly serious. This isn’t about his personality or his politics. It is about our duty to #DefendOurDemocracy. #LSSC pic.twitter.com/ge7cjZV3pT
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) November 1, 2019
“They know who it is. You know who it is. You just don’t want to report it,” Mr Trump told reporters at the White House. “And you know you’d be doing the public a service if you did.”
US whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Representatives on both parties have historically backed those protections.
The whistleblower has become a central fixation for Republicans, and in particular the president.
Republicans view a political opportunity in unmasking the CIA official, whom the intelligence community’s inspector general said could have “arguable political bias”.
The inspector general nevertheless found the whistleblower’s complaint to be “credible”.
The president believes that if he can expose bias in the initial allegations against him, he can paint the entire impeachment inquiry it sparked as a partisan, political probe.
On this point, Republicans have largely fought the impeachment inquiry on process, not substance, believing it is tainted because interviews were conducted in closed sessions – ignoring the fact that Republicans were in attendance – and complaining that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not called a vote to launch the matter.
But Ms Pelosi called such a vote last week, and the inquiry will soon shift into open hearings.
Now, Mr Trump is demanding that his allies defend his actions, insisting that he did nothing wrong while arguing that quid pro quos like the one allegedly offered to Ukraine are common occurrences while leveraging power in conducting foreign policy.