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National Security, Whistleblower Law Expert On What's Next After Release Of Memo


All this started with that whistleblower complaint that is now in the hands of the House Intelligence Committee. It was just 12 days ago that the existence of the complaint was made public, but the substance of the complaint is still unknown.

We're joined now by Bradley Moss. He's a lawyer who specializes in national security issues and whistleblower law. Welcome to the studio.

BRADLEY MOSS: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: You heard Republicans earlier saying that this is much ado about nothing, but what's your reaction to the complaint that's now being delivered to Congress?

MOSS: Well, it's good that we've got the transparency and the oversight. That was expected. That's always supposed to exist. This type of complaint brought by an intelligence community official regarding what they consider to be flagrant and serious abuse of the law with respect to an operational intelligence activity was validated by the inspector general, appointee by this president, and was supposed to be sent to the intelligence committees. There were legal jurisdictional questions. It was an unprecedented situation. That's why the DNI, you know, first balked at it.

But now we're finally getting to that point where the actual complaint, not just this memo that's a portion of a transcript that may or may not be the entirety of the complaint that's been public - no, the actual complaint is going to Congress.

CORNISH: Well, let me stop you there because there have been reports that the White House was working on a redacted declassified version to release publicly. What would we learn from that? I mean, what could be left to learn?

MOSS: From the complaint itself, you mean?

CORNISH: Well, a redacted one, right?

MOSS: Yeah. Well, so - and the question is - now, there may be legitimate reasons to redact certain portions if it concerns very sensitive, classified information. But what would be critical here is that Congress, which has that necessary constitutional oversight function, particularly in the context of impeachment, sees the entire thing, especially to the extent that it raises concerns regarding the president's conduct. If it was an impeachable offense or not, that's something Congress has to be made aware of and has to learn the detail of what was put in that complaint.

CORNISH: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says the committee is in discussions to have the whistleblower testify before that committee. What could that testimony look like?

MOSS: So preferably, it would be closed testimony, if only for the reason that the whistleblower should not be the story. Their identity - he or she should not become a public figure in this unless that person wants to do so because if they are exposed, if their identity is outed, their career in the government is effectively over. They become a pariah. They'll never remain employed in the U.S. government. They raised the concern. They went through the proper, lawful procedures. This is now a political process. The story is the complaint, not the whistleblower.

CORNISH: But to that point, you had Rep. Adam Schiff today saying on the House floor, look; if we don't validate the whistleblower process, if we leave the whistleblower unprotected, even as the president suggests the whistleblower somehow betrayed his or her country, the system is broken. Should people be concerned about the whistleblower? Do they need protecting? And if so, from whom?

MOSS: So the - whistleblowers, especially ones who go through these proper procedures, always need protecting. And for the intelligence community, it's been a long-standing problem that the protections are rather weak. There are some administrative protections from retaliation and reprisal that were put into law under the Obama administration, but there's no right to go to court. There's no judicial review of any of this. And so, yes. Should people be worried? Yes. But the biggest threat to this whistleblower is somebody leaking the name.

CORNISH: Tomorrow, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is testifying in open session of the House Intelligence Committee. What are you going to be looking for?

MOSS: How much he's allowed to talk, not just about the substance of the complaint but what went on behind the scenes, to what extent he was told by the White House or the Justice Department that he could not forward this for reasons other than the strict legal issues, that jurisdictional question of the statutory scope. If there was political pressure to protect the president and they imposed that upon the DNI here, that is something that should come out tomorrow.

CORNISH: And what question would you like to hear asked?

MOSS: Quite simply, did the White House ever interfere in your administration of your duties and your ability to properly forward this information, if you thought it appropriate, to the intelligence committees?

CORNISH: Bradley Moss is a lawyer specializing in issues of national security, including whistleblowers.

Thank you for taking the time to explain it to us.

MOSS: Anytime.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE DINING ROOMS' "YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.