Barely two weeks after Donald Trump took office, Eric Ciaramella – the CIA analyst whose name was recently linked in a tweet by the president and mentioned by lawmakers as the anonymous “whistleblower” who touched off Trump’s impeachment – was overheard in the White House discussing with another staffer how to remove the newly elected president from office, according to former colleagues.
Sources told RealClearInvestigations the staffer with whom Ciaramella was speaking was Sean Misko. Both were Obama administration holdovers working in the Trump White House on foreign policy and national security issues. And both expressed anger over Trump’s new “America First” foreign policy, a sea change from President Obama’s approach to international affairs.
“Just days after he was sworn in they were already talking about trying to get rid of him,” said a White House colleague who overheard their conversation.
“They weren’t just bent on subverting his agenda,” the former official added. “They were plotting to actually have him removed from office.”
Misko left the White House last summer to join House impeachment manager Adam Schiff’s committee, where sources say he offered “guidance” to the whistleblower, who has been officially identified only as an intelligence officer in a complaint against Trump filed under whistleblower laws. Misko then helped run the impeachment inquiry based on that complaint as a top investigator for congressional Democrats.
The probe culminated in Trump’s impeachment last month on a party-line vote in the House of Representatives. Schiff and other House Democrats last week delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate, and are now pressing the case for his removal during the trial, which began Tuesday.
The coordination between the official believed to be the whistleblower and a key Democratic staffer, details of which are disclosed here for the first time, undercuts the narrative that impeachment developed spontaneously out of what Trump’s Democratic antagonists call the “patriotism” of an “apolitical civil servant.”
Two former co-workers said they overheard Ciaramella and Misko, close friends and Democrats, discussing how to “take out,” or remove, the new president from office within days of Trump’s inauguration. These co-workers said the president’s controversial Ukraine phone call in July 2019 provided the pretext they and their Democratic allies had been looking for.
“They didn’t like his policies,” another former White House official said. “They had a political vendetta against him from Day One.”
Their efforts were part of a larger pattern of coordination to build a case for impeachment, involving Democratic leaders as well as anti-Trump figures both inside and outside of government.
All unnamed sources for this article spoke only on condition that they not be further identified or described. Although strong evidence points to Ciaramella as the government employee who lodged the whistleblower complaint, he has not been officially identified as such. As a result, this article makes a distinction between public information released about the unnamed whistleblower/CIA analyst and specific information about Ciaramella.
Democrats based their impeachment case on the whistleblower complaint, which alleges that President Trump sought to help his re-election campaign by demanding that Ukraine’s leader investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for military aid. Yet Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, and other Democrats have insisted on keeping the identity of the whistleblower secret, citing concern for his safety, while arguing that his testimony no longer matters because other witnesses and documents have “corroborated” what he alleged in his complaint about the Ukraine call.
Republicans have fought unsuccessfully to call him as a witness, arguing that his motivations and associations are relevant – and that the president has the same due-process right to confront his accuser as any other American.
The whistleblower’s candor is also being called into question. It turns out that the CIA operative failed to report his contacts with Schiff’s office to the intelligence community’s inspector general who fielded his whistleblower complaint. He withheld the information both in interviews with the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, and in writing, according to impeachment committee investigators. The whistleblower form he filled out required him to disclose whether he had “contacted other entities” — including “members of Congress.” But he left that section blank on the disclosure form he signed.
The investigators say that details about how the whistleblower consulted with Schiff’s staff and perhaps misled Atkinson about those interactions are contained in the transcript of a closed-door briefing Atkinson gave to the House Intelligence Committee last October. However, Schiff has sealed the transcript from public view. It is the only impeachment witness transcript out of 18 that he has not released.
Schiff has classified the document “Secret,” preventing Republicans who attended the Atkinson briefing from quoting from it. Even impeachment investigators cannot view it outside a highly secured room, known as a “SCIF,” in the basement of the Capitol. Members must first get permission from Schiff, and they are forbidden from bringing phones into the SCIF or from taking notes from the document.
While the identity of the whistleblower remains unconfirmed, at least officially, Trump recently retweeted a message naming Ciaramella, while Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Louie Gohmert of the House Judiciary Committee have publicly demanded that Ciaramella testify about his role in the whistleblower complaint.
During last year’s closed-door House depositions of impeachment witnesses, Ciaramella’s name was invoked in heated discussions about the whistleblower, as RealClearInvestigations first reported Oct. 30, and has appeared in at least one testimony transcript. Congressional Republicans complain Schiff and his staff counsel have redacted his name from other documents.
Lawyers representing the whistleblower have neither confirmed nor denied that Ciaramella is their client. In November, after Donald Trump Jr. named Ciaramella and cited RCI’s story in a series of tweets, however, they sent a “cease and desist” letter to the White House demanding Trump and his “surrogates” stop “attacking” him. And just as the whistleblower complaint was made public in September, Ciaramella’s social media postings and profiles were scrubbed from the Internet.
‘Take Out’ the President
Ciaramella in early 2017 expressed hostility toward the newly elected president during White House meetings, his co-workers said in interviews with RealClearInvestigations. They added that Ciaramella sought to have Trump removed from office long before the filing of the whistleblower complaint.