(…) “The contacts between members of Schiff’s staff and the whistleblower are shrouded in secrecy to this day,” deputy Trump counsel Patrick Philbin said responding to a question asked at Wednesday’s trial by senators about RCI’s reporting earlier this month. “Obviously to get to the bottom of motivations, bias, how this inquiry was all created, [it] could be relevant.”
Schiff claimed he cannot talk about who among his staff met with the “whistleblower,” because they have received “threats” online. He says he must “protect” them, along with the whistleblower’s identity, which he insists he does not know. Schiff also suggested RCI was “circulating smears on my staff,” though he did not deny the story.
On an official question card, GOP Sen. Rand Paul Thursday submitted a direct question for Schiff based on story: “Are you aware that House Intelligence Committee staffer Sean Misko has a close relationship with Eric Ciaramella when at the National Security Council together? Are you aware and how do you respond to a report that Ciaramella and Misko may have worked together to plot impeaching the president before there were formal House impeachment proceedings?”
However, the question was never asked. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, blocked it after screening the card, ostensibly because it included the name of the official believed to be the whistleblower. “The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts declared in rejecting Paul’s query.
Earlier, Roberts had signaled to Senate leaders behind the scenes that he would not read aloud the alleged whistleblower’s name or otherwise publicly relay questions that might out the official.
Constitutional scholars say the disputed question was an unprecedented situation.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who testified as an expert in the House impeachment hearings, said Roberts had no legal reason to quash the senator’s question since it did not violate federal whistleblower laws.
“This is relatively uncharted because the reading of the name does not directly violate federal law,” Turley said.
He speculated Roberts simply claimed an inherent authority to block the question under “decorum and restraint.”
It remains unclear how Roberts knew Eric Ciaramella was the whistleblower when Paul did not outright say he was the whistleblower in the question card that was handed Roberts to read. “My question made no reference to any whistleblower,” Paul affirmed. Did the presiding justice consult with Schiff or other House managers prior to the 16-hour question period? If so, did Roberts violate his own impartiality oath?
Paul said he was given no explanation for the rejection of a question that could have drawn out exculpatory information for the president. He blamed Roberts and the Senate for “selective belief in protecting the whistleblower statute … Nobody says they know who the person is. But anybody you say might be [the whistleblower] all of a sudden is protected from being part of the debate.”
The Kentucky senator said he considered requesting a roll call vote to overrule Roberts’ “incorrect finding,” but decided Friday’s debate over witnesses would generate too many motions and votes to make it feasible.
Effectively silenced, Paul held a press conference Thursday afternoon in which he explained the significance of asking such questions: “It’s very important whether or not a group of Democratic activists, part of the Obama-Biden administration, were working together for years looking for an opportunity to impeach the president.”
He compared Eric Ciaramella and Sean Misko to disgraced FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page plotting to prevent Trump from being president.
With a paucity of information about the whistleblower forthcoming from both government and media, only one side has been allowed to do any real fact-finding during the impeachment process. And that’s left the defendant — Donald J. Trump — still unable to cross-examine his main accuser.” (Read more: RealClearInvestigations, 1/31/2020) (Archive)