WASHINGTON — The FBI sought last month to interview the whistleblower who helped ignite the impeachment inquiry as a witness in an ongoing investigation, several people familiar with the matter said.
The interview never took place. It is not clear why agents wanted to talk to the whistleblower, a CIA analyst, or how interested they remain in speaking to him.
The FBI contacted lawyers for the whistleblower and did not use his name in making the request. The whistleblower’s account of the effort by President Donald Trump, the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and administration officials to push Ukraine to pursue investigations that would benefit Trump politically became a road map for the House’s impeachment investigation and has been largely corroborated by subsequent testimony.
The FBI made clear to his lawyers that the whistleblower was not the target of any ongoing investigations, according to people familiar with the matter.
The FBI request could be a routine, “check-the-box” request, according to one person briefed on the request. But it also could be related to the more substantive issues about the Ukraine pressure campaign raised in the whistleblower complaint, according to people familiar with the matter.
Yahoo News first reported that the FBI was seeking to speak with the whistleblower.
In August, after learning about the whistleblower complaint, the Justice Department’s criminal division reviewed the whistleblower complaint and found that there was no violation of campaign finance laws. The following month, as the complaint became public, the Justice Department announced that it had determined no further action was necessary on the complaint.
Giuliani is under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, at least in part for his role in efforts to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Giuliani was also a key player in the efforts to press Ukraine’s government to pursue the investigations sought by Trump in his July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. They included investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and a debunked theory about Ukrainians meddling in the 2016 election.
The FBI might also have wanted to learn about threats made against the whistleblower. The CIA is providing protection to the whistleblower, who is an agency employee continuing to work on intelligence matters.
Still, the FBI has not renewed its request to speak to the whistleblower since it first asked several weeks ago, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Since the original FBI request, the issue of interviewing the whistleblower has become more fraught and entangled in partisan politics.
House Republicans have demanded the chance to interview the whistleblower as part of the impeachment inquiry, but Democrats have resisted, withdrawing an earlier request to speak to him. House Democrats believe there is no reason to call in the whistleblower since his information was secondhand, and they now have sworn testimony from witnesses more directly involved in the July 25 call as well as people more directly involved in the pressure campaign on Kyiv.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. Andrew Bakaj, the lead attorney for the whistleblower, also declined to comment but said that it remained critical for the identity of his client to be protected for his safety.
Although the testimony in the impeachment hearings has centered on witnesses with more direct knowledge of Trump’s pressure campaign, the whistleblower remains a central, but mysterious, figure. Republicans continue to press witnesses about whether they spoke to people who could be the whistleblower.
Bakaj has offered to have his client answer written questions from the committee.
But House Republicans have continued to focus on the whistleblower’s push to make the Ukraine pressure campaign public, as part of a larger effort to demonstrate partisan motivations. Republicans have suggested the whistleblower was partisan because he was originally detailed to the White House under the Obama administration to work on Ukrainian affairs and was a registered Democrat.
The whistleblower has remained an obsession among right-wing media and Trump allies who have speculated about the analyst’s identity and political affiliation. Several right-wing websites have purported to identify the whistleblower, but no mainstream media outlet or even top-tier conservative site has identified the officer who filed the complaint.
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Republicans have frequently noted that before filing his complaint, the whistleblower met with a Democratic staff member of the House Intelligence Committee.
“The Democrats have zeroed in on an anonymous whistleblower complaint that was cooked up in cooperation with the Democrats on this very committee,” Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who is the ranking member of the intelligence committee, said Wednesday. “They lied to the American people about that cooperation and refused to let us question the whistleblower to discover the truth.”
Democrats have said such charges are misleading and emphasized that the concerns raised in the whistleblower’s complaint have been largely confirmed by other witness testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
Bakaj reiterated his position that efforts to focus on the whistleblower or reveal his identity reflects a “desperation to deflect from the substance of the whistleblower complaint.”