Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, repeatedly stymied Republicans’ attempts to question two witnesses in Tuesday’s impeachment hearings.
The first interruption by the California congressman came as he accused ranking GOP member, Rep. Devin Nunes, of asking questions that could out the whistleblower who sparked the inquiry into President Trump.
Nunes was asking Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about the people with whom he shared concerns about Trump’s July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, when he focused on what intelligence agency an individual who Vindman spoke to worked for.
“What agency was this individual from?” the California Republican Nunes asked, prompting Schiff to interject.
“We don’t want to use these proceedings,” Schiff began as Nunes replied, “It’s our time” before Schiff shut him down.
“We need to protect the whistleblower. I want to make sure that there’s no effort to out the whistleblower through these proceedings. If the witness has a good faith belief that this may reveal the identity of the whistleblower, that is not the purpose that we are here for, and I want to advise the witness accordingly,” he said, noting that the whistleblower’s identity was protected under federal law.
When Nunes continued questioning, Vindman refused to answer some of the queries, saying it might ID the whistleblower.
“Per the advice of my counsel, I have been advised not to answer specific questions about members of the intelligence community,” Vindman said.
“Are you aware that this is the Intelligence Committee that’s conducting an impeachment hearing?” Nunes said.
“Of course I am,” Vindman said. “Ranking member, per the advice of my counsel and the instructions from the chairman, I have been advised not to provide any specifics on who I have spoken to with inside the intelligence community.”
Schiff then intervened again.
“The whistleblower has the right, the statutory right to anonymity. These proceedings will not be used to out the whistleblower,” he said.
Later, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pointedly asked Vindman whether he was a leaker.
“Your boss had concerns about your judgment,” said Jordan, in reference to previous, behind-closed-doors testimony from former National Security Council official Tim Morrison.
“Your colleagues had concerns about your judgment, and your colleagues felt that there were times when you leaked information,” continued Jordan. “Any idea why they have those impressions, Col. Vindman?”
The Army man said that his former boss couldn’t have known him well enough to make that call.
“I can’t say why Mr. Morrison questioned my judgment,” he said. “We had only recently started working together.”
Jordan pressed the issue, asking bluntly, “And colonel, you never leaked information?”
Vindman insisted, “I never did, never would. That is preposterous.”
When Jordan’s questioning turned to the identities of a number of people to whom Vindman has acknowledged discussing the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, Vindman clammed up — and, at the request of Vindman’s counsel, Schiff shut it down.
“Gentleman will suspend,” Schiff told Jordan.
“As I indicated before, this committee will not be used to out the whistleblower,” the Democrat continued.
“Mr. Chairman, I don’t see how this is outing the whistleblower,” countered Jordan. “The witness has testified in his deposition that he doesn’t know who the whistleblower is.
“You have said — even though no one believes you — you have said you don’t know who the whistleblower is. So how is this outing the whistleblower?”
After a pregnant pause, Schiff offered a piece of advice to Jordan with the clock running.
“Mr. Jordan, this is your time for questioning. You can use it any way you like. But your questions should be addressed to the witness,” he said, “And your questions should not be addressed to trying to out the whistleblower.”