WASHINGTON, D.C. (WROC) – After The New York Times published a controversial article identifying the job title of the first White House whistleblower, and President Trump referred to the whistleblower as “close to a spy,” and possibly guilty of treason, extreme efforts are now being considered to protect both whistleblowers identities.

Many have expressed concerns for the safety of both whistleblowers, including members of the press, the whistleblowers’ lawyers, and experts familiar with these types of processes.

Both whistleblowers are in danger — and any others who might come forward will be as well.

Lawyers representing the whistleblowers commented, “[We have] serious concerns for our client’s personal safety, as well as for others connected to this matter.” These concerns have only increased in the wake of both the President’s demands to not only have the first whistleblower’s identity revealed to him but to meet with him or her in person, and The New York Times’ revealing of a key piece of his or her identity (a move that drew such immense criticism that the publication’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, personally published his reasoning behind the controversial decision.)

Trump has begun attempts to discredit both whistleblowers as partisan weapons. The President accused the first whistleblower of misrepresenting his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as containing any “quid pro quo” intentions. These accusations have been in spite of the fact that a rough transcript of the call released by the White House appears to fully support the complaint the whistleblower originally filed with the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

Could the President be looking at legal repercussions for these threats?

The President’s moves to scare or threaten the whistleblowers, as well as to prevent potential others from coming forward, more than risk the category of, “obstruction of justice.” The President has opposed the basic foundations of the United States’ whistleblower protection legislation, including the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.

A key piece of 2012’s Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act was to establish a “Whistleblower Ombudsman.” This created a new position charged with educating employees of government agencies regarding their rights in a whistleblowing scenario, the legal prohibitions on retaliation against whistleblowers, and the remedies prescribed by the Act if an employee is subjected to retaliation for making a “protected disclosure.” Each government agency has its own Whistleblower Ombudsman.

WROC reached out to one of the U.S. Government’s Ombudsmen to ask exactly what those prescribed remedies are, and how a government official could be punished for threatening whistleblowers, or retaliating against them. We have not yet heard back, but will update this story.

How to protect the whistleblowers on Capitol Hill

It remains undetermined whether either whistle-blower will speak with Congress about their respective complaints. But, as many would like to hear more from both whistleblowers, discussions have begun regarding how to best protect each of these individuals if that situation arises.

Current possibilities for preventing the discovery of either individual’s identity in the case of their speaking in front of Congress include the use of an off-site location, the limiting of Congressional members and staff permitted to attend each respective interview, and disguising each whistle-blower’s appearance and voice. According to CNN, “any secure facility, known as a SCIF, could be used for the meeting, potentially the facilities located at Langley or Ft. Meade.”

Additional methods being considered include simply sneaking them into Capitol Hill. One source described this method to CNN as the “Petraeus treatment,” referring to the private testimony of former CIA Director David Petraeus back in November 2012 regarding the Benghazi scandal.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus with former President George W. Bush.

Unsurprisingly, an aide to one Democratic member of Congress said that concerns of the whistle-blowers’ identities being leaked to members of the Trump administration, or the press, and the risk of retaliation that could bring were what prompted these conversations about so carefully protecting their identities.

“The President and several high profile Republican Members have made it clear they don’t think the whistle-blower deserves protection,” said the aide. “Once the whistle-blower’s identity is known, they will do everything they can to attack this person’s credibility.”

Security clearances: the last stop before Congress

In order for the whistleblowers’ to be accompanied by their lawyers when speaking with Congress, their lawyers will need to be granted certain levels of security clearance. CNN reported Monday that their organization had sources close to the situation alleging that the whistleblowers’ legal teams are working on getting appropriate clearances, and that that process is ongoing.

Andrew P. Bakaj, lawyer for the first whistleblower

Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence relayed in a letter to the whistleblowers’ lawyers that whistleblower protections would continue to apply to any disclosures these individuals might make to congressional intelligence committees, just as they apply to the complaints both individuals already filed. In other words, as long as each of their identities can remain hidden in the process, speaking with congressional intelligence committees about their complaints and their surrounding circumstances would pose no additional threat to either whistleblower, aside from the risks they have already undertaken in speaking up. Which is good news for both the whistleblowers, and anyone hoping to hear them speak with Congress.

Where this leaves us:

The attempts being made by the whistleblowers’ lawyers suggest that they are both willing to speak with congressional intelligence committees. Which means that the only remaining contingency on whether that happens is the Director of National Intelligence’s willingness to grant the appropriate security clearances.

Rumors flew last week that an unnamed media outlet had the name of the first whistleblower, and was prepared to release it. The backlash The New York Times faced over publishing the first whistleblower’s employer could discourage future exposing of details, but that scare is still haunting the whistleblowers, as well as their legal teams.

So at the bottom line, three essential questions remain. First, the matter of security clearances being granted (or not granted) for the whistleblowers’ respective lawyers. Second, the level of safety and anonymity that can be guaranteed to each whistleblower, both for the process of seeing these complaints through, and, as many would like for that process to entail, the sub-process of each whistleblower sitting in front of congressional intelligence committees without revealing their identities. Security clearances and safety are the only two remaining contingencies as far as hearing more from the whistleblowers. But the third question, not to be ignored, is what repercussions the President (and possibly members of his team) may face for the continuing thinly-veiled threats against the whistleblowers, which arguably are also acting as deterrents for potential others.

This third question will likely be the last to be answered, as answering it fairly will likely mean speaking with both whistleblowers and determining if they feel — as many feel on their behalf — that they have been threatened, or have experienced retaliation.

Sources have said that the first whistleblower, as of last week, was continuing to go to work each day, so it may be difficult to prove that he or she is experiencing retaliation since they aren’t being prevented from working. But that hardly means that retaliation isn’t to come, or that it isn’t already occurring in subtle ways on-the-job. And if he or she decides to go through with speaking to Congress, and any further information is leaked that leads to the unveiling of their identity? A whole new level of retaliation from several groups becomes possible. And we know even less about the second, newer whistleblower. There are too many unanswered questions to be able to fairly predict whether repercussions for violating whistleblower protection laws lies ahead for Trump, or for anyone on his staff.

So will the lawyers get their needed clearances? Based on political pressure from multiple directions, most likely this is a yes. Can the whistleblowers be kept safe and their identities unknown? Usually, yes. Always? No. That is one we will have to watch play out. Will Trump face punishment for his tweets and spoken comments? That one likely rides on interviews with the whistleblowers. And with those potential repercussions being far from the only thing riding on these potential interviews, if and when they happen, history will be watching.