WASHINGTON — An intelligence official with “firsthand knowledge” has provided information related to President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and is now protected from retaliation as a whistleblower, lawyers representing the official said Sunday, confirming that a second individual has come forward in the matter.
Much is unknown about the official, who has been interviewed by the intelligence community’s inspector general but has not filed a formal complaint.
But the individual has hired the same legal team as the first whistleblower. That, and the claim of “firsthand knowledge,” suggests testimony that might bolster the impeachment case against Trump and further undermine one of his main defense claims: that the accusations against him are based on inaccurate, secondhand information.
The New York Times reported Friday that an intelligence official who has more direct knowledge of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine than the first whistleblower, and who had grown alarmed by the president’s behavior, was weighing whether to come forward. The second official was among those interviewed by the intelligence community inspector general to corroborate the allegations of the original whistleblower, one of the people briefed on the matter said.
For Democratic lawmakers seeking to build their case for impeachment, the new whistleblower could serve as an important witness for both validating what they know and potentially providing new leads for investigators. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., who is leading the House’s impeachment inquiry, urged other potential whistleblowers to come forward Sunday night.
“We thank them for their courage,” he said. “We thank them for their patriotism. And we hope others will follow their courageous example.”
One member of the legal team confirmed on Twitter that the firm was now representing “multiple whistleblowers” but declined to say how many. The inspector general has said that to corroborate the first whistleblower’s complaint, he interviewed multiple people who would be afforded protections, and it was unclear if the lawyer could be referring to those people or other people.
Since the first whistleblower emerged, the White House has tried to unmask his identity, and dismiss him as a “deep state operative” with partisan motives to “take down” Trump. The president stuck to form Sunday evening in trying to dismiss the new whistleblower.
“Democrat lawyer is same for both Whistleblowers?” he said on Twitter. “All support Obama and Crooked Hillary. Witch Hunt!”
The lawyers representing both whistleblowers said the emergence of a second account should take the focus off the identities of the individuals coming forward.
“Our hope is that the focus will appropriately shift to the substance and merits of the allegations rather than the individual whistleblowers, each of whom has a legal right to remain anonymous,” said Mark S. Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s lawyers.
Zaid said the official’s act of coming forward to the inspector general had secured whistleblower protections, and it was not clear if the whistleblower would file a formal complaint.
The official has also not communicated yet with any congressional committees, Zaid said. But Democrats said the speed with which the case was becoming public was itself a strong sign of wrongdoing.
“What’s happening is that people around the president, professionals, who are in the Oval Office, who are in the Situation Room, are watching what is happening and are finally saying, ‘My God, this cannot happen anymore,’ and they are coming forward,” Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Even before the second whistleblower’s emergence, lawmakers leading the impeachment inquiry were preparing for another jam-packed week of fact-finding that could significantly shape their case. They are scheduled to talk to at least two senior U.S. diplomats: Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly removed from her post this year after running afoul of the White House, and Gordon D. Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union who closely managed the relationship between the White House and the new Ukrainian government.
Two associates of Trump’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said to have played roles in his shadow campaign to push for investigations in Ukraine that could benefit the president have also been called to testify. Additional requests for documents and witnesses are also expected.
The first whistleblower, a CIA officer who was detailed to the National Security Council, filed a complaint in August outlining how Trump used his power to push Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, the former vice president and current presidential candidate, as well as his son Hunter Biden, including in a July 25 phone call with the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The disclosure of a new whistleblower, first reported by ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos on his show “This Week,” appeared likely to help House Democrats’ reconstruction of events, even as the White House has so far refused to comply with requests for documents related to Trump’s efforts to press Ukraine to investigate a leading political rival, and any attempt to conceal his actions.
But on Sunday, the White House shrugged off the news, arguing that it did not change the fact that Trump did nothing wrong.
“It doesn’t matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same telephone call — a call the president already made public — it doesn’t change the fact that he has done nothing wrong,” said Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary.
Giuliani framed the news of the new whistleblower Sunday as a political hit on the president. “SURPRISE Democrat lawyer has other secret sources,” Giuliani wrote on Twitter. He added that the bottom line was that there was “no quid pro quo” attached to Trump’s pressure on Ukrainian officials to investigate his political rivals, and called the story an “ORCHESTRATED DEM CAMPAIGN LIKE KAVANAUGH,” referring to the sexual misconduct allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
But with information evolving unusually quickly, few senior congressional Republicans or White House officials have been willing to step out publicly to defend Trump’s actions. The White House, which has been riven internally about how to handle impeachment proceedings, with no one clearly in charge, did not have any senior officials making the case on the Sunday news shows to defend Trump.
Of those congressional allies who did make public comments Sunday, several either focused on attacking Democrats’ handling of the case or said they would reserve judgment until they saw more facts.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was interested to learn more about the new whistleblower and offered no defense of Trump’s actions toward Ukraine. Instead, he said he first wanted to see the results of the Senate’s bipartisan investigation of the matter before making a judgment.
“You have to assume if it is essentially a partisan vote in the House, that that sets the stage for likely the same kind of vote in the Senate,” Blunt said on CBS. “But let’s see what the facts are.”
Others were more squarely behind the president.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he was “not at all” concerned by the emergence of another whistleblower because he had already seen a rough transcript of Trump’s July call with Ukraine’s president that, in his view, was not problematic.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of Trump’s most steadfast defenders, said the president was merely interested in rooting out legitimate accusations of corruption and that Democrats were unfairly vilifying him for it.
But pressed a half-dozen times to say whether he approved of Trump’s public remarks this week calling on China to investigate the Bidens, Jordan would not answer.
“I think he has you guys all spun up,” he said, repeating a line frequently used by Republicans in recent days. “I don’t think he really meant go investigate. Do you think China is really going to investigate?”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a heated exchange on “Meet the Press” that Trump had “vehemently, angrily denied” to him withholding aid for Ukraine in exchange for investigating his political rivals.
“Unlike the narrative of the press that President Trump wants to dig up dirt on his 2020 opponent, what he wants is an accounting of what happened in 2016,” Johnson said.