Phillips & Cohen partner Stephen Hasegawa discusses the importance of protecting whistleblowers in a radio interview aired on Deutschlandfunk, German national public radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio’s news program. Reporter Thilo Kößler provides context around the heated debate in Washington, DC, about whistleblowers, after a US intelligence whistleblower complaint brought about an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Thilo Kößler: Steve Hasegawa sees in that a flagrant violation of the spirit implied by legal whistleblower protections. Hasegawa is a member of the renown US law firm Phillips & Cohen, that has been representing whistleblowers for 20 years. He was reached in his office in San Francisco.
Stephen Hasegawa: [Publicly identifying the whistleblower] would certainly violate the spirit of the legal protections that are in place for whistleblowers.
TK: There are federal- and state-level laws protecting whistleblowers. There are special laws for employees of the government and US intelligence agencies who become anonymous informants. The whistleblower in the Ukraine affair worked for the CIA. These laws expressly protect whistleblowers from termination and other consequences when they reveal misconduct of their colleagues, though the protection of the identity – a guarantee of anonymity – does not exist, says Hasegawa.
SH: Because of the protections against retaliation, I believe that the federal laws protecting employees of intelligence agencies include a guarantee of anonymity, but I must emphasize this is not yet entirely clear.
TK: Steve Hasegawa believes that a legally rooted right to anonymity for whistleblowers is urgently needed. In the heated debate around the Ukraine-affair, a corresponding initiative in Congress seems unimaginable.
SH: [The protection of anonymity] is critically important. A lot of crime, blatant misconduct, corruption takes place in the dark and behind closed doors. Laws can only be enforced when there are witnesses who are encouraged to speak out, and we should not make the people who have the courage to call out misconduct choose between their job and personal safety, and what’s best for the country.
TK: Steve Hasegawa reminds us that going to courts or the media with secret information is fundamentally associated with many risks.
SH: Even under the best of circumstances, it is a difficult thing to do, to be a whistleblower.
TK: In the specific case of the whistleblower who anonymously revealed Donald Trump’s threats towards Ukraine President Zelensky, Hasegawa believes it would be irresponsible and possibly life-threatening to reveal their identity.
SH: In [these politically heated] circumstances in which there are threats of violence against people who do highly honorable things, it would be really dangerous for the whistleblower’s identity to become known.
TK: At the same time, revealing the identity would be be an absolutely wrong and fatal signal to others, who for reasons of personal safety remain anonymous when they reveal misconduct.
SH: I believe there would be even more corruption, more violations of law and above all, more case where laws protecting whistleblowers would be unfairly applied.
TK: The whistleblower who uncovered the Ukraine affair can only hope that the Democratic committee member Adam Schiff will do everything possible to protect his anonymity.
Listen to the full broadcast (in German), “Präsidiale Tweets gegen Whistleblower – Wie steht es in den USA um ihren Schutz?” on Deutschlandradio’s website.