Addressing a packed arena in Lexington, Kentucky, Republican Sen. Rand Paul claimed on Monday night that he knows the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint is at the center of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. Then Paul delivered a pointed message to the media.
“Do your job and print his name!” the Kentucky senator yelled, prompting the crowd to chant raucously, “Do your job!”
As the House Democrats’ effort to impeach Trump heats up, the president and his allies have fixated on unmasking the whistleblower, whose identity is protected by federal law, and the person’s alleged political motives. Earlier Monday, Trump demanded public testimony from the whistleblower.
But Paul’s comments drew intense criticism from many who accused him of putting the anonymous U.S. intelligence officer in danger, a firestorm that turned the senator’s name into a top trending term on Twitter with more than 63,000 mentions.
“A member of Congress who calls for the identity of any lawful whistleblower to be publicly revealed against their wishes disgraces the office they hold and betrays the interests of the Constitution and the American people,” Mark Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s attorneys, told The Washington Post in an emailed statement Monday night.
The senator did not respond to a request for comment late Monday.
Though Trump traveled to Kentucky to campaign for Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, at the election-eve rally, it was clear the impeachment inquiry weighed heavily on the president’s mind. While endorsing Bevin, Trump ripped into Democrats and the media, drawing loud cheers from his supporters — a number of whom were wearing T-shirts that said, “Read the transcript!”
About 30 minutes into his remarks, Trump invited Paul onstage, calling him “a great warrior” and “a great guy.” The pair have not always had such an amiable relationship, particularly when they competed for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But more recently Paul has changed his attitude toward Trump, even emerging as one of the president’s most vocal defenders amid an investigation into Russian election interference.
“Whenever I needed him, he was always there, it’s true,” Trump said Monday about Paul. Trump later clarified, “Whenever we need … a vote, he’s so incredible, and he’s become a really good friend.”
Moments after Paul joined Trump onstage, he reciprocated the president’s praise and launched into a full-throated attack of the impeachment probe.
“President Trump has great courage. He faces down the fake media every day,” Paul said, drawing loud applause. “But Congress needs to step up and have equal courage to defend the president.”
Paul then turned his attention to the whistleblower, alluding to unverified reports from conservative media outlets that the CIA employee had political motivations to attack Trump.
“We also now know the name of the whistleblower,” Paul said, echoing Trump’s demands that the person come forward as a material witness and calling on the media to publish his identity.
The senator went on to demand that his fellow lawmakers subpoena former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the whistleblower, earning approving nods from Trump.
“If Shifty Schiff will not let Hunter Biden come, and if he will not bring the whistleblower forward, every Republican in Congress should take a walk and say this is a farce,” Paul concluded, referencing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, by his newest Trump nickname.
As the crowd cheered, Trump and Paul exchanged a hearty handshake before the senator left the stage.
“Wow, that was excellent,” Trump said after his supporters quieted. “He’s a warrior. I’ve always said it.”
Not everyone, however, enjoyed Paul’s rally appearance as much as Trump did.
Critics tore into the senator, slamming him for, as one person put it, choosing “blind loyalty to the president over patriotism to his country.” Another called Paul’s remarks about the whistleblower “deeply irresponsible.”
“Donald Trump has brought the entire Republican Party down to his despicable level,” CNN commentator Keith Boykin tweeted, adding that Paul “should be ashamed of himself.”
Several people also argued that the senator’s stance on naming the whistleblower goes against his self-proclaimed libertarian beliefs. Paul’s Twitter bio reads, “I fight for the Constitution, individual liberty and the freedoms that make this country great.”
“I am seriously struggling to find consistency between the purported libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and his desire to place a lawful whistleblower in harm’s way,” one Twitter user wrote.
At least one person noted that Paul’s views on the whistleblower also likely puts him at odds with his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The elder Paul penned a USA Today OpEd in 2017 titled, “Whistle-blowers are heroic, patriotic.”
Meanwhile, conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr., rallied behind Paul.
“Awesome!!!” Trump Jr. tweeted. “@RandPaul bringing the heat. He’s 100% right and I’m glad he has the guts to say it. We need more guys like Rand.”
Diamond and Silk, two conservative video bloggers, wrote, “We loving this guy right now!”
On Monday, Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of Trump’s staunchest allies on cable news, suggested that he too knew the name of the whistleblower.
“I actually have multiple confirmations of who the whistleblower is, but you know what? I’ll play the game for a little bit and I’ll take the lawyers’ threats that they’re going to sue me,” Hannity said on his show Monday night. “Wouldn’t go anywhere.”