In the first occasion on which the chief justice has been functioning as anything other than a ceremonial figure during the trial, John Roberts refused to read a Rand Paul question that appears to finger the famous “whistleblower” who kicked off the impeachment process by reporting concerns about the president’s July 25 conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky. The Washington Post reports the story:
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Thursday declined to read a question submitted by Paul, in which the Kentucky Republican sought to name a person who conservative media outlets have alleged is the whistleblower whose anonymous complaint launched the impeachment inquiry.
“The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said of Paul’s question, which also included the name of a Schiff staffer.
Paul has repeatedly demanded that the media unmask the alleged whistleblower.
Federal whistleblowers are offered limited protections from retaliation.
The odd thing is that Mitch McConnell presumably was in a position to discourage if not prohibit Paul’s question, but apparently failed, and all but apologized for it before Roberts made his decision, as Politico reported:
McConnell proactively scolded Paul as the Senate came into session on Thursday afternoon.
“We’ve been respectful of the chief justice’s unique position in reading our questions. And I want to be able to continue to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue,” McConnell said.
Paul instantly left the chamber and told the news media that he wasn’t trying to out the whistleblower, but was simply pursuing a welter of right-wing conspiracy theories about the alleged Democratic Party/Deep State conspiracy that eventually led to impeachment:
The Kentucky senator then gave a contentious news conference in the Senate’s TV gallery in which he read his question, which named a person referred to in conservative media as the possible whistleblower and an acquaintance who works for the House Intelligence Committee. Paul asserted those two men “may have worked together to plot impeaching the president before there were formal impeachment proceedings.”
“I don’t know who the whistleblower is. Adam Schiff doesn’t know who the whistleblower is. My question is not about the whistleblower. My question is about two people who are friends who worked together … who have been overheard talking about impeaching the president years in advance of a process that then was created to get the impeachment process going,” Paul told reporters.
So Paul engaged in some serious sophistry, aiming to get the alleged whistleblower’s name into the Senate trial record, and also open the door for the Senate to go fully down the rabbit hole of lurid conservative tales leading back to the FBI’s handling of intelligence on the Trump campaign and Russia and Democratic cover-ups of the actual Ukrainian megacampaign to throw the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton, and Lord only knows what else.
It’s unclear whether Roberts was trying to avoid the inevitable effort to turn Trump’s trial into a trial of various Democrats, or simply didn’t want to violate the legally required anonymity of the whistleblower himself. But Paul has gratified those who have tried to turn every investigation of Trump upside down from the beginning: