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At Senate trial, chief justice again tosses out Rand Paul's whistleblower question

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·4 min read
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For the second time in as many days, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected a question submitted by Sen. Rand Paul during the impeachment trial of President Trump.

“The presiding officer declines to read the question that was submitted,” Roberts said Thursday after silently reading the notecard the senator from Kentucky sent to his desk.

Paul, who stood as he waited to see if Roberts would allow his question to be asked, smiled. He then gathered up his papers and walked out and held a press conference. A number of reporters in the press gallery hurried out to hear him.

On Wednesday, Roberts also refused to read a question from Paul, leading the senator to complain and for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to warn senators ahead of Thursday’s session to respect Roberts’s authority.

“We’ve been respectful of the chief justice’s unique position in reading our questions, and I want to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue,” McConnell said.

At his news conference and on Twitter, Paul disclosed his question, which contained the name of the person many Republicans believe to be the whistleblower who filed a formal complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) reads his "whistleblower" question blocked by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts during the impeachment trial proceedings of US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill January 30, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., reads a question about the whistleblower during President Trump's impeachment trial on Thursday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Paul was pursuing a Republican theory about a “close relationship” between that person and a member of the House Intelligence Committee staff and allegations that they “may have worked together to plot impeaching the president before there were formal House impeachment proceedings.”

Yahoo News is withholding the name Paul included in his question, which he claimed was not about outing the whistleblower’s identity.

During Wednesday’s question-and-answer session, House Manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., denied Republican claims that he knew the identity of the whistleblower, who had contacted his office before filing the complaint about the July 25 phone call.

“I don’t know who the whistleblower is,” Schiff said Wednesday. “I haven’t met them or communicated with them in any way. The committee staff did not write the complaint or coach the whistleblower what to put in the complaint. The committee staff did not see the complaint before it was submitted to the inspector general.”

Republican supporters of the president, including Paul, have portrayed the whistleblower’s complaint as politically motivated, which they say taints the entire House inquiry. National security lawyer Mark S. Zaid, who represents the whistleblower, posted a retweet asserting that “Senator Paul's effort to out the Ukraine whistleblower is reckless and intended to distract and intimidate, not educate.”

Later in the day, the topic of the whistleblower was revisited when a group of Republican senators again asked about the relationship between Schiff’s staff and the whistleblower.

“Members of this body used to care about the protection of whistleblower identities, They didn’t use to gratuitously attack members of committee staff. But now they do,” Schiff responded, adding, “Whistleblowers are a unique and vital resource for the intelligence community because like other whistleblowers who can go public with their information, whistleblowers in the intelligence community cannot because it deals with classified information.”

Schiff said that Trump was likely “applauding this question because he wants his pound of flesh,” adding that “I can tell you who the whistleblower should be. It should be every one of us. Every one of us should be willing to blow the whistle on presidential misconduct.”

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow portrayed the question as entirely reasonable, saying that while federal whistleblower’s were protected from “retribution,” they were not entitled to anonymity.

“We can’t just say it’s not relevant to know who on the staff that conducted the primary investigation here was in communication with the whistleblower.”

Jon Ward contributed to this article

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