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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

NowThis Politics: Whistleblowers in the Trump Administration

August 08, 2017
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NowThis Politics features GAP's Dana Gold, Director of Education and Strategic Partnerships, and Zack Kopplin, Investigator and Outreach Associate. Whistleblowers in the Trump Administration receive frighteningly predictable reprisal for speaking out against wrongdoing. But whistleblowers are imperative to protecting the public and deserve our gratitude. 

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America is in crisis.

President Donald Trump, and his administration, are afraid of the truth. It’s not just that he attacks news organizations as “fake,” or that his administration lies—flagrantly—almost every day.

But those who report the truth suffer swift, direct and aggressive retaliation. Nasty tweet storms are the least of it; when then acting-Attorney General Sally Yates refused to implement Trump’s Muslim ban, he fired her. She had correctly believed it was an illegal order.

And we all know that the president fired then-FBI Director James Comey who was investigating inappropriate connections between top administration officials, the Trump campaign and Russia.

Nothing going on there.

With hostile, personal attacks and public firings issued against the most visible truth-tellers, the chilling effect this creates among civil servants cannot be understated.

But today, more than ever, we need truth tellers to speak out. And the best truth tellers may be inside the administration itself. Brave government employees who are committed to public service and upholding the law.

I’m talking about whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers are not snitches, disloyal, or even “leakers.” Rather, they are typically the most loyal employees, committed to doing work that complies with the law and that fulfills the public mission of government service. They’re doing their jobs. At great personal and professional risk, they report serious government and corporate wrongdoing and threats to our communities, our environment, and our safety.

Most of the news focusing on whistleblowers is about the intelligence community, who often face the horrible choice of having to commit a crime to expose a crime - that crime being releasing classified information, whether it’s about illegal surveillance of American citizens or foreign interference with our elections.

But unlike intelligence employees, who have weak or nonexistent legal protections to report misconduct, most federal workers and contractors, as well as private employees, have the right to blow the whistle free from reprisal.

Lawmakers on both aisle have recognized that whistleblowers are the best defense against misconduct. That’s why they have enacted whistleblower protection laws that make it unlawful to retaliate against employees who disclose evidence they believe exposes any of these things:

A violation of law, a rule, or a regulation,

Gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority,

Or, a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.

Federal employees can also expose censorship of scientific research and refuse to follow orders that would require them to violate a law.

Unfortunately, despite legal protections that exist to encourage employees to report serious violations of public trust, the reality is that instead of focusing on the message, we vilify the messenger. Rather than receiving thanks for raising their concerns, whistleblowers are typically met with responses just like we’ve seen from President Trump —personal and professional attacks, and often termination. It’s sadly predictable.

But here’s some advice.

If you’re a whistleblower and you’re planning to speak out, document everything. Take notes, save your emails.

Second, consider working from within the system. Challenges to institutions often are not taken seriously unless you can prove that you provided the proper authorities a chance to correct the problem and they did not.

And finally, before you do anything, consult with an attorney who specializes in whistleblower law, like those at the Government Accountability Project. Full disclosure: that’s where we work. This will help you understand exactly what you’re getting into and ensure you are protected.

Our democracy is being threatened by a tsunami of lies and corruption. Whistleblowers who are willing to speak truth to power are the key to our democracy’s survival and maybe even our own. They need our support and deserve our gratitude. Because the truth matters. Because the truth matters, now more than ever. 

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