When Facebook last fall said it would delete “any and all mentions” of the name of the CIA operative believed to be the "whistleblower” who sparked President Trump's impeachment, it wasn’t kidding.
A number of Facebook members complain the social media giant has been taking down recent RealClearInvestigations stories about the whistleblower within hours of sharing them with friends.
"I posted your article to Facebook, got a bunch of likes and comments and shares,” said a user in Sacramento who linked to RCI’s Jan. 22 story, “Whistleblower Was Overheard in ’17 Discussing With Ally How to Remove Trump.” “But when I looked to see if there were additional responses, I saw that Facebook had removed the post. Wow! The story disappeared overnight, no message to me.”
She said she tried reposting the story twice, but Facebook’s content police removed it both times within an hour or so.
Another user in New Orleans also complained: “The article disappeared from my ‘friends' feed.” And a Little Rock member reported, “My post was removed without any notification from Facebook.”
Facebook had no comment. But in early November -- a week after RCI first reported Oct. 30 that CIA analyst Eric Ciaramella’s name had been invoked in heated discussions about the whistleblower during closed-door House depositions of impeachment witnesses — the site warned it would scrub from its platform identifying posts on the whistleblower. It explained that outing the anonymous official violates its policy against potentially "coordinating harm” against witnesses or activists. Facebook users complain RCI's original story, "The Beltway's 'Whistleblower' Furor Obsesses Over One Name,” which quickly went viral after the Drudge Report linked to it, has also been wiped off their pages.
A Connecticut law school student was so incensed after Facebook deleted his whistleblower posts mentioning Ciaramella — again, without warning, notification or explanation — that he sued Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly violating fair trade practices, as well as his civil liberties. "The plaintiff has been denied the ability to speak publicly on a matter of grave public importance,” Cameron Atkinson’s attorneys stated in his Nov. 12 complaint.
Atkinson argued that Facebook’s “censorship” of the whistleblower is “politically motivated” to preserve “the carefully crafted narrative around the attempt to impeach President Trump.”
During the 2016 election, the social network was accused of suppressing right-leaning publications and authors, along with positive Trump stories, in its "Trending Topics” news feature. FEC records show Facebook executives overwhelmingly back Democrats, including COO Sheryl Sandberg who made a $416,000 contribution to Hillary Clinton in 2016. So do Facebook employees: 87% of their political contributions have gone to Democrats since the company was founded in 2004, according to a 2018 study.
Many of Facebook’s 2.3 billion users rely on the platform for their political news. Others rely on traditional media, but they won’t hear about the whistleblower there, either.
The nation’s top reporters have taken a virtual oath of silence regarding his name, even though it's an open secret inside their newsrooms. Suppressing their news instincts, they have been unified in complying with Democratic demands to back off identifying the whistleblower and exploring his motives.
As a result, they have left large gaps in reporting on the origins of this momentous story, only the third presidential impeachment in U.S. history. The Washington Post, which normally would own such a local story, has scarcely touched it. Instead of doing its own deep reporting, it's assigned reporters to do media stories (here and here) questioning RCI for its journalistic decision to “unmask" the whistleblower, who enjoys limited, not blanket, anonymity.
Unlike the federal agency that fielded his complaint, the press is under no statutory obligation to keep his name secret, especially when it's in the public’s interest to disclose it, along with his background and bias. Without him, there would be no investigation, no impeachment and no trial — to say nothing of the virtual halting of the nation’s business for the past six months.
Congress can legally reveal the whistleblower’s name, but so far it has suppressed it.
Congressional Republicans complain House impeachment manager Adam Schiff and his staff, who privately met with the complainant prior to his filing, have redacted his name from documents. Schiff has even classified at the SECRET level all 179 pages of a document discussing the whistleblower and his contacts with Schiff’s staff, which he did not disclose in his complaint as required. That means Republicans who have seen it cannot quote from it without violating laws against divulging classified information.
Justice Roberts Thwarts Questions
About Whistleblower in Senate
“The contacts between members of Schiff’s staff and the whistleblower are shrouded in secrecy to this day,” deputy Trump counsel Patrick Philbin said responding to a question asked at Wednesday’s trial by senators about RCI’s reporting earlier this month. “Obviously to get to the bottom of motivations, bias, how this inquiry was all created, [it] could be relevant.”
Schiff claimed he cannot talk about who among his staff met with the "whistleblower," because they have received "threats" online. He says he must "protect" them, along with the whistleblower's identity, which he insists he does not know. Schiff also suggested RCI was “circulating smears on my staff,” though he did not deny the story.
On an official question card, GOP Sen. Rand Paul Thursday submitted a direct question for Schiff based on RCI’s story: “Are you aware that House intelligence Committee staffer Sean Misko has a close relationship with Eric Ciaramella when at the National Security Council together? Are you aware and how do you respond to a report that Ciaramella and Misko may have worked together to plot impeaching the president before there were formal House impeachment proceedings?"
However, the question was never asked. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, blocked it after screening the card, ostensibly because it included the name of the official believed to be the whistleblower. “The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts declared in rejecting Paul’s query.
Earlier, Roberts had signaled to Senate leaders behind the scenes that he would not read aloud the alleged whistleblower’s name or otherwise publicly relay questions that might out the official.
Constitutional scholars say the disputed question was an unprecedented situation.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who testified as an expert in the House impeachment hearings, said Roberts had no legal reason to quash the senator’s question since it did not violate federal whistleblower laws.
"This is relatively uncharted because the reading of the name does not directly violate federal law,” Turley said.
He speculated Roberts simply claimed an inherent authority to block the question under “decorum and restraint.”
It remains unclear how Roberts knew Eric Ciaramella was the whistleblower when Paul did not outright say he was the whistleblower in the question card that was handed Roberts to read. "My question made no reference to any whistleblower,” Paul affirmed. Did the presiding justice consult with Schiff or other House managers prior to the 16-hour question period? If so, did Roberts violate his own impartiality oath?
Paul said he was given no explanation for the rejection of a question that could have drawn out exculpatory information for the president. He blamed Roberts and the Senate for “selective belief in protecting the whistleblower statute … Nobody says they know who the person is. But anybody you say might be [the whistleblower] all of a sudden is protected from being part of the debate.”
The Kentucky senator said he considered requesting a roll call vote to overrule Roberts’ “incorrect finding,” but decided Friday's debate over witnesses would generate too many motions and votes to make it feasible.
Effectively silenced, Paul held a press conference Thursday afternoon in which he explained the significance of asking such questions: "It's very important whether or not a group of Democratic activists, part of the Obama-Biden administration, were working together for years looking for an opportunity to impeach the president.”
He compared Eric Ciaramella and Sean Misko to disgraced FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page plotting to prevent Trump from being president.
With a paucity of information about the whistleblower forthcoming from both government and media, only one side has been allowed to do any real fact-finding during the impeachment process. And that’s left the defendant — Donald J. Trump — still unable to cross-examine his main accuser.