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In the BLOG

Is Trump wrong? Are whistleblowers entitled to anonymity?

Although the allegations of the White House whistleblowers are now public, their identities are not.  All we know is that they are intelligence officers. President Trump and his supporters claim that the allegations are only a political ploy, and they continue to demand their identities:

In fact, Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, threatened to expose the whistleblowers if Democrats proceed with impeachment.

Does anonymity make a complaint less credible?

President Trump and his supporters certainly think so.  The president denies any wrongdoing and claims that the complaints are a “scam” and a “witch hunt.” 

He has called the whistleblower a “spy” and has said that the whistleblower “either got it totally wrong, made it up, or the person giving the information to the whistleblower was dishonest [].”

Certainly, anonymity may embolden some bad actors to knowingly make false allegations.  However, whistleblower laws include safeguards to prevent this. For example, the Whistleblower Protection Act only protects employees who make disclosures based on a “reasonable belief” that the allegation is true.  Under the law, your belief is reasonable if a disinterested person could come to the same conclusion based on the same facts and information. And you’ll need enough details and possibly evidence to corroborate the allegations.  Additionally, employees can only claim protection if they follow specific procedures.

The law doesn’t guarantee anonymity.

In many circumstances, the government allows you to make anonymous complaints.  Even though it’s illegal to retaliate against whistleblowers, it happens all the time.  Accepting anonymous complaints encourages employees to report criminal and unlawful activity.  For example, you can make an anonymous complaint through a government’s agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) hotline.  However, it may be difficult or even impossible to remain anonymous. During an investigation, witnesses and the wrongdoers can sometimes figure out who complained based on the nature or context behind the allegations.  You may also have to forfeit anonymity in order to collect damages awarded in a False Claims Act or similar case.

Anonymous, good-faith whistleblowing promotes the public interest.

Earlier in the month, nearly 90 former national security officials wrote an open letter regarding the White House whistleblower.  The letter, signed by prominent officials, both Republicans and Democrats, stated: 

“A responsible whistleblower makes all Americans safer by ensuring that serious wrongdoing can be investigated and addressed, thus advancing the cause of national security to which we have devoted our careers.”

The letter goes further by calling on the government and the public to protect the whistleblower:

“Whatever one’s view of the matters discussed in the whistleblower’s complaint, all Americans should be united in demanding that all branches of our government and all outlets of our media protect this whistleblower and his or her identity.”

In short, it’s the whistleblower’s disclosure – not his or her identity – that is of primary importance.  Although President Trump may not be able to confront his accusers right now, he can certainly respond to the allegations against him.

Are you a whistleblower?

If you complained about your employer’s waste, fraud, or abuse, we can help.  We are whistleblower attorneys who represent employees in Office of Special Counsel (OSC) complaints, Independent Right of Action cases with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), Department of Justice investigations, qui tam actions under the False Claims Act, claims, arbitration and mediation, and settlement negotiations.  We will work with you to evaluate your case, discuss your options, and develop a strategy to assert your rights.

Contact us today to speak with an experienced employment attorney.  Alan Lescht and Associates represents state and local government workers and private sector employees in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia, and federal government employees around the world.

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