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Who is the whistleblower?

It doesn’t matter.

The identity of the government official who raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine in an anonymous nine-page complaint to Congress is irrelevant and getting more irrelevant by the day.

The complaint was a tip — an admittedly secondhand account of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which, the whistleblower alleged, Trump pressured Zelenskiy to pursue an investigation into Trump’s political rival Joe Biden.

Since publication of the complaint Sept. 26, the main points of the allegation have been confirmed both by a reconstructed partial transcript of the phone call released by the White House and by a parade of on-the-record witnesses who have testified before the House intelligence committee.

Yet Trump and his allies are continuing to attack the whistleblower’s motives and credibility and to demand that mainstream media publish his or her name. At this writing, Trump has tweeted 55 times about the whistleblower in less than seven weeks, accusing him or her of being a “spy” who is part of a “witch hunt scam,” insisting that “he or she should be exposed and questioned properly” and threatening the whistleblower with “big consequences.”

At a private speech Sept. 26, Trump suggested the whistleblower was guilty of “treason” and alluded wistfully to the death penalty.

After the whistleblower’s attorney offered last weekend to have him or her answer written questions from House members, including Republicans, Trump raged “written answers not acceptable!” even though he himself refused to testify in person during the special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and instead provided only written answers.

“You know who (the whistleblower) is. You just don’t want to report it,” Trump told reporters on Sunday. “And you know you’d be doing the public a service if you did.”

“Do your job and print his name,” Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said to journalists at a Trump rally Monday night. He was echoing numerous calls from GOP officials in recent days for the mainstream media to break an embargo already shattered by right-wing media, where many reports have identified a person thought to be the whistleblower and offered biographical details to support a claim of Democratic political bias.

But, again, his or her identity doesn’t matter.

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Whether the whistleblower was Melania Trump or Michael Moore, the initial tip is checking out. The origin of the impeachment inquiry is relevant only to those who are trying desperately to distract the public from the substance of the allegations against the president and from the fact that he’s ordering many key witnesses not to testify.

All such distractions, including the endless GOP bleating about “Soviet-style” hearings that are actually following ordinary congressional procedures, are cynical attempts to inflame the Trump-protecting passions of his rabid and uninquisitive base and confuse swing voters with the suggestion that the entire impeachment process is tainted.

But what lifts this typical mendacious gaslighting into something truly sinister is the way it fires a warning shot over the heads of any other potential insiders who might like to anonymously pass along information relevant to the impeachment inquiry.

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We will harass you mercilessly! We will threaten you with repercussions! We will do what we can to drag you into public view and make your life hell.

This amounts to a very real effort to obstruct justice that stands to imperil not just this case but also other future cases of governmental, corporate and institutional malfeasance that won’t come to light without confidential informants.

Whistleblowers tend to be heroes, not rats.

They’re the insiders who provide initial guidance and direction to investigators who then uncover and prosecute corruption, safety violations, sexual abuse, fraud and other skulduggery. Whistleblowers are, in some respects, the fifth estate that guards our freedoms. And without the promise of confidentiality, many of them would not come forward.

Undermining that promise is fundamentally destructive to our society, right up there with trying to coerce a foreign government to try to help influence an election.

Trump seems to know this. What else explains why he’s deferring to the mainstream media and not simply announcing the name of the alleged whistleblower to his 66.6 million Twitter followers?

But most of the dirty work has already been done. And to think it’s all in the service of discrediting and outing someone who doesn’t even matter anymore.

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Eric Zorn is an op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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