The Public Servants

THERE ARE 363,000 FEDERAL WORKERS IN THE GREATER Washington, D.C., area. In the first week of September, history turned in the office of one of them. The intelligence analyst who blew the whistle on President Donald Trump had just gotten off the phone with the Inspector General’s office. One of a handful of people who had read the analyst’s report alleging that Trump had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election, the Inspector General had found the analyst’s concerns “urgent” and “credible.” But there was a problem: higher-ups in the intelligence community had spoken to the White House. Both were blocking the IG from sending the complaint to Congress.

There is a particular kind of silence in the offices of the intelligence community. The buildings have multipaned windows with special protective coatings that prevent eavesdropping so virtually all exterior noise is blocked. There are few conversations in the carpeted hallways—people mind their own business—and everyone ensures their phone calls cannot be overheard. Amid the ambient hum of HVAC systems and the occasional ringing of an elevator bell, the atmosphere is one of monastic isolation. Sitting alone in that silence, the analyst asked, “What do I do now?”

The law provides one answer. In 2014, Congress added a paragraph to the statute that created the role of intelligence community Inspector General. “An individual who has submitted a complaint or information to the Inspector General,” it reads, “may notify any member of either of the Congressional intelligence committees, or a staff member of either of such committees.”

For the analyst, it wasn’t an easy call. The attempt to block the complaint had upped the stakes. What would happen if the analyst came forward? Whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation by law, but President Trump had attacked government officials before, and his supporters were even more threatening. Congress was its own minefield. Republicans on the Hill had backed Trump on Russia, the analyst’s area of expertise. Democrats, for their part, were looking for an edge in the 2020 election and might turn a government employee, like the whistle-blower, into one.

But multiple people had told the analyst that during a July 25 phone call, the President had “sought to pressure” his Ukrainian counterpart to dig up dirt on political rivals and pursue a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. The analyst believed that Trump was using the sovereign power of the American presidency in an attempt to stay in office. It was an affront to democracy, the whistle-blower decided. There was only one ethical choice—going to Congress and telling the truth.

As it turned out, the analyst was not alone. For much of 2019, in different corners of America’s globe-spanning national-security apparatus, more than a dozen public servants reported concerns to their superiors about the President’s handling of Ukraine. They were diplomats and policy wonks, budget crunchers and combat veterans. Most had acted alone, largely unaware of what was happening elsewhere in government. None knew until much later how far things had gone. Each had played by the rules, putting professionalism and public service ahead of their own policy preference. Each had been ignored or quashed by political bosses up the chain of command.

The analyst’s actions helped launch a fast-moving congressional investigation that brought the dissent to light. The rush of revelations that has followed paints a damning portrait of the President’s use, and abuse, of power. The public servants who came forward provided the foundation for the articles of impeachment against Trump that are expected to be

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