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Media reluctance to mention alleged Ukraine whistleblower crumbling

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  • Donald Trump Jr, the eldest son of President Donald Trump, tweeted an article naming an official it is claimed is the whistleblower whose complaint against the president sparked an impeachment probe. 
  • Right-wing activists and websites have alleged a plot to keep the name of the official, who is afforded anonymity protections under federal law, out of the public eye. 
  • The whistleblower’s legal team say that the official’s life may be in danger if the person is unmasked. 
  • The whistleblower’s account of the president’s alleged wrongdoing has been borne out by a White House memo and the congressional testimony of senior government officials. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An alleged identity for the whistleblower whose complaint sparked impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump has been circling on social media and fringe websites for weeks.

However, the identity — which has not been confirmed — had largely been absent from reporting by the mainstream of the US media.

In recent days, the situation has begun to change, with discussion of the identity entering the coverage of major, legacy outlets, albeit by indirect means and without printing a name.

It represents a victory of sorts for those sites, and for figures like Donald Trump Jr. and Senator Rand Paul, who have pushed to make the whistleblower’s identity a subject of public debate.

Business Insider has not been able to verify the alleged identity, and is not repeating it in this article.

The name alleged to belong to the whistleblower — whom mainstream outlets like The New York Times have described only as a CIA official — was first mooted on social media, then by the site Real Clear Investigations.

Right-leaning outlets including Breitbart, One America News Network, and The Washington Examiner have since published the name themselves, often with the caveat that it has not been confirmed.

The Real Clear Investigations report which many others cite doesn’t provide evidence for the person they identify being the whistleblower, only claiming that the person’s profile fits what little we know about the whistleblower, and the person has been named in congressional hearings. 

According to Buzzfeed News, the individual has long featured in right-wing conspiracy theories about Ukraine and the “deep state.”  

A change came on Wednesday, when more mainstream news organizations began to report on those printing the name without using it themselves.

Agence France-Presse (AFP), an influential French news organization, reported Wednesday on tweets by Trump Jr. which included the name. The report was republished by Yahoo! News, bringing it closer to US readers.

On the same day:

Although such reports do not name the alleged whistleblower, it puts the identity within a few clicks of anybody minded to find it.

The hugely influential aggregation site The Drudge Report — a pro-Trump site which had not linked to earlier reports — on Wednesday and Thursday ran links to all of the above articles barring the BuzzFeed one, bringing the name one step closer to the mainstream.

Advocates for keeping the name secret say that circulating the whistleblower’s name would put him in danger.

It has also been observed — including by Business Insider’s John Haltiwanger — that the whistleblower’s identity and motivations are not relevant to the public debate, given that his claims have been corroborated by public sources.

In tweets Wednesday, Trump Jr. goaded the media and accused them of a cover-up.

He said: “The entire media is #Triggered that I (a private citizen) tweeted out a story naming the alleged whistleblower. Are they going to pretend that his name hasn’t been in the public domain for weeks now?”

“Triggered” is the name of his new book.

The whistleblower, who has been described by The New York Times as an intelligence official, filed an official complaint in August, claiming that President Trump abused the powers of his office in demanding that Ukraine launch an investigation into Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who used to work at a Ukrainian energy firm. 

One of the attorneys for the whistleblower, Mark Zaid, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Russian state media and right-wing websites have in recent days published the name of an official they claim is the whistleblower.

Right-wing activists are attempting to portray the official as a partisan political operator with links to senior Democrats, whose complaint was motivated by a desire to damage the Trump presidency rather than by legitimate concerns about wrongdoing. 

The whistleblower’s account of a July 25 phone call in which president Trump demanded a “favor” from Ukraine’s president has been borne out by a memo of the call released by the White House and the congressional testimony of senior US government officials. 

Attorneys for the whistleblower have said that the safety of the individual would be compromised if their identity were made public, and have stressed the legal protections whistleblowers are provided under US law 

The whistleblower’s legal team in a statement this week said that “identifying any suspected name for the whistleblower will place that individual and their family at risk of serious harm. We will not confirm or deny any name that is published or promoted by supporters of the president.”

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