Russian media, Breitbart name Ukraine whistleblower — or did they?

Russian media, Breitbart name Ukraine whistleblower — or did they?

At a Monday evening Trump rally in Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul called on media organizations to out the whistleblower who first flagged the regime's efforts to coerce the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into Hunter Biden and lend credence to various right-wing conspiracy theories designed to absolve Russia for intervening in the 2016 election.

Hours later, Paul tweeted out an article by Paul Sperry at Real Clear Investigations claiming that the whistleblower was probably Eric Ciaramella, a former NSC staffer.  Sperry is a far-right conspiracy theorist who had previously served as the Washington Bureau Chief for WorldNetDaily and now contributes to the New York Post's opinion pages.

According to The Daily Beast, shortly after Paul's tweet, "Kremlin-controlled state media promptly jumped on it."

As if on cue, the Kremlin-controlled heavy hitters—TASS, RT, Rossiya-1—disseminated the same information. But unlike Rand Paul, one of the Russian state media outlets didn’t seem to find the source—Real Clear Investigations—to be particularly impressive, and claimed falsely that the material was published originally by The Washington Post.

Breitbart also got into the act with a piece ostensibly tying Ciaramella to former British spook Christopher Steele, another obsession of Trump's defenders in the conservative press.

After Donald Trump threatened to punish the whistleblower, an apparent violation of The Whistleblower Protection Act, it appears that the conservative media in the US and Russia outed him, potentially putting his life in peril. If that were the whole story, it would be shameful. But it may be that this understates the right-wing media's corruption, as there's a very good chance that Ciaramella is not, in fact, the whistleblower at all.

Ciaramella, a holdover at the NSC from the Obama era, has been a central character in the right's long-running drama about Deep State operatives supposedly sabotaging Trump's presidency from within for years. Last April, almost a year before the debunked narrative alleging that Joe Biden tried to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son emerged, The New Yorker  reported that in 2017, "a series of online posts by [Steve] Bannon allies targeted staff members who were perceived as traitorous, exposing personal details about them." Among those staffers was "Eric Ciaramella, [who] was described on right-wing blogs as a leaker out to 'sabotage Trump.' After receiving death threats, he quit the N.S.C. and returned to his home agency."

It is within the realm of possibility that Ciaramella filed a whistleblower complaint about Trump shaking down Ukraine more than a year after leaving the White House, but it seems unlikely.

According to the complaint, most but not all of the damning information it contained had been conveyed to the whistleblower by parties with direct knowledge of events, including the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. "I was not a direct witness to most of the events described," he wrote, which suggests that he was a direct witness to some of them.

By the time Zelensky was elected, Ciaramella had long been radioactive in Trump's White House. Even if he had been witness to some of the events described in the complaint from afar--from his home agency--it's unlikely that a bunch of White House officials who were troubled by Trump's behavior would reach out to someone who had been outed as an ostensible "Deep State operative" by conservative bloggers and banished from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under fire from conservative bloggers.

It seems more likely that Sperry simply recycled Ciaramella from previous Deep State "exposés" in order to muddy the waters, discredit the Ukraine scandal--Sperry described Ciaramella as "a registered Democrat" who had "previously worked with former Vice President Joe Biden and former CIA Director John Brennan, a vocal critic of Trump"--and warn other potential whistleblowers that they too might be exposed. (Madeline Peltz at Media Matters pointed out that Real Clear Investigations has softened the headline on Sperry's piece twice, changing it from "'Whistleblower' Exposed: Close to Biden, Brennan, Schiff's Staff, and DNC Operative" to "How 'Whistleblower' May Be Outed: Ties to Biden, Brennan, Schiff's Staff, Etc." before finally settling on "The Beltway's 'Whistleblower' Furor Obsesses Over One Name.")

One shouldn't underestimate the depth of the conservative media's corruption. If Sperry did just dust off an old name to tie the investigation to Biden and Brennan, it would be deeply cynical and dishonest. But that can be said of the entire obsession with the whistleblower, who is completely irrelevant at this stage of the investigation. The White House released an edited and abbreviated transcript of the phone call that confirmed the broad outlines of a central part of the complaint, and a half-dozen officials with first-hand knowledge of Rudy Giuliani's shadow foreign policy in Ukraine have since fleshed out the details in Congressional testimony.

The whistleblower is just the guy who called the cops, and since then the suspect has confessed and a bunch of witnesses have come forward to testify about the crime. Meanwhile, whether or not he was the person who dropped a dime, Eric Ciaramella is almost certainly bracing for a fresh round of death threats.

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