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The anonymous whistleblower who has threatened Trump's presidency
[WASHINGTON] Only a handful of people know his or her identity, but the whistleblower whose complaint threatens to implode Donald Trump's presidency is already being lauded as both a hero and a traitor.
Six weeks after submitting a damning complaint about Mr Trump that was made public on Thursday, neither the president nor his intelligence chief knows their name or job, much less Democrats who have made the complaint the basis of an impeachment probe of the US leader.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that the person is a man who works for the Central Intelligence Agency and had been seconded for a time to the White House.
The whistleblower's explosive complaint depicts Mr Trump using his official powers to pressure Ukraine's president to get dirt on former vice-president Joe Biden, currently the most likely Democrat to face Mr Trump in next year's presidential election.
Democrats have accused the president of abuse of power in seeking foreign interference in a US election, two years after Russia meddled in the 2016 vote to help Mr Trump's campaign.
The complaint only identifies the whistleblower as a member of the sprawling US intelligence community, 16 separate bodies with 100,000 people.
But it suggests the person is a skilled analyst deeply knowledgeable about Eastern European politics with strong contacts in the White House.
'BY THE BOOK'
He or she recruited attorney Andrew Bakaj, a specialist in national security and whistleblower law, to help prepare the August 12 complaint for the inspector general of the intelligence community.
"I don't know the identity of the whistleblower. I just hear that it's a partisan person," Mr Trump said earlier this week.
"I don't know who the whistleblower is," acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, the leader of the intelligence community, said on Thursday.
Federal whistleblowers have strong protections under a special law governing officials wanting to report wrongdoing by colleagues or superiors, but they have to go through a strictly defined process.
Mr Maguire said the person acted "by the book."
"I think the whistleblower did everything in the right way," he told the House Intelligence Committee.
TRUMP: 'ALMOST A SPY'
But protecting the person could be hard. Mr Bakaj has agreed to have them appear behind closed doors at the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to answer questions about the complaint.
Mr Trump has already launched a campaign of personal attacks, accusing the whistleblower of relying on secondary reports from others in the intelligence community and holding a bias against the president.
"Who is this so-called 'whistleblower' who doesn't know the correct facts. Is he on our Country's side" Mr Trump asked in a tweet this week.
And on Thursday, Mr Trump appeared to threaten them.
"They're almost a spy," Mr Trump said in a private meeting, according to a recording published by the Los Angeles times.
"You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now."
PRAISE FOR COMING FORWARD
But many others praised the person for risking their career and possibly personal safety by coming forward.
"I want to thank the whistleblower for their courage. They didn't have to step forward," said Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in a hearing on the complaint Thursday.
Mr Bakaj would not confirm The New York Times report that the whistleblower works for the CIA.
But he assailed the newspaper for endangering the person.
"Any decision to report any perceived identifying information of the whistleblower is deeply concerning and reckless, as it can place the individual in harm's way," The New York Times quoted Mr Bakaj as saying.
"The whistleblower has a right to anonymity."
The nonprofit group Whistleblower Aid opened a public donation site seeking funds for the person's legal fees on Wednesday.
"The US intelligence officer who filed an urgent report of government misconduct needs your help," the group said.
"This brave individual took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution."
One day after the launch, the site had raised more than US$79,000 from around 2,200 donors.