The Moment Chief Justice Roberts ‘Declined to Read’ Rand Paul’s Whistleblower Question

Many have speculated about what role Chief Justice John Roberts would play as presiding officer in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Some suggested he might play an outsized role, while others suggested he would do “nothing in particular.” On Thursday, Roberts did what will perhaps be the most significant thing he’ll do the whole trial: blocking a question from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that named the alleged Ukraine whistleblower.

“The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said.

That this was going to happen is in no way a surprise.

Sen. Paul took to Twitter after this happened and disclosed the question Roberts refused to read.

The only other semi-controversial Roberts moment thus far was actually a rebuke of both Trump lawyers and House Managers.

“It is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body. One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner, and using language, that is not conducive to civil discourse,” Roberts said last week, advising “those addressing the Senate” to “remember where they are.”

John Tye, the founder and CEO of non-profit, legal organization Whistleblower Aid, told Law&Crime that Sen. Paul’s attempted question was “reckless” and designed to “intimidate, not educate.”

“Senator Paul’s effort to out the whistleblower is reckless and intended to distract and intimidate, not educate,” said Tye, who was himself a whistleblower. “Attaching any name to the identity the whistleblower, whether accurate or not, puts the named individual at tremendous personal risk.”

“The contents of the whistleblower complaint have been fully verified, including by President Trump,” Tye continued. “Any talk of the whistleblower at this point is a distraction, and any effort to name the whistleblower is retaliation for lawfully reporting misconduct.”

“Ongoing attacks on whistleblowers and whistleblower protections risk creating a chilling effect that will undermine government oversight and our system of checks and balances,” he added.

Attorney Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys representing the Ukraine whistleblower, was also one of the lawyers who represented Tye when Tye reported wrongdoing. Zaid is a founding legal partner of the organization and Andrew Bakaj, another attorney representing the Ukraine whistleblower, is of counsel there. The Whistleblower Aid website says the organization exists to “support individuals who, lawfully, report government and corporate law breaking.”

National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss, a partner at Zaid’s law firm who is unaffiliated with the whistleblower case, praised Chief Justice Roberts for doing what he did.

“Thank you to Chief Justice Roberts for recognizing the disgraceful nature of the effort by Senator Paul and to decline to be complicit in it. Shame on Senator Paul,” he said.

Editor’s note: this story was updated after publication with comment from Tye, Moss, and relevant information about members of Whistleblower Aid.

[Image via ABC News screengrab]

Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.

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