Anonymous Complaint Questions Online Donations for Ukraine Whistleblower’s Legal Fees
The whistleblower’s team disputes the allegations.
An anonymous client of a large national security law firm is calling on the Intelligence Community Inspector General to determine if the Ukraine whistleblower violated federal regulations by accepting donations from a GoFundMe page for his or her legal expenses.
“The most concerning allegation my client believes is that the federal employee under protection and his attorneys apparently have strategically weaponized their alleged whistleblowing activities into a very lucrative money-making enterprise, using a charity incorporated under a different name than the trade name it is used for fund-raising purposes,” said Anthony Gallo, managing partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s New York City office, in a press release on Tuesday. “This would appear to my client to be a clear abuse of the federal employee’s authority and access to classified information.” Gallo sent a complaint letter to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson on Nov. 8, which was obtained by Fox News.
However, John Tye, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Whistleblower Aid, who created the page that is co-signed by Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid, attorneys for the whistleblower, disputed the allegations. “This complaint is nothing more than an effort to attack a lawful, and therefore protected, whistleblower,” he said in a statement to Government Executive on Wednesday. “Our GoFundMe campaign fully complies with federal law and all ethics requirements, and it has been vetted by outside counsel. To be clear: not a penny will go to the whistleblower.”
Tye said his organization is providing pro-bono representation and security to the whistleblower and his or her legal team. “Given the ceaseless attacks on the whistleblower and their legal team, we are continuing to accept donations from non-prohibited sources,” Tye said.
The GoFundMe page was created on Sept. 25, the same day the White House released the partial transcript of the call in which President Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “to do us a favor." The call is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry for which public hearings began on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday, the page has raised $227,827. The anonymous client believes these donations from about 5,900 different donors may violate several provisions of federal regulation 5 CFR 2635.203 that outlines the standards for ethical conduct of federal employees. This includes the solicitation and acceptance of gifts from prohibited sources, such as foreign governments. He or she has “reason to believe that those allegations can be substantiated,” Gallo told Government Executive. For this person “it's not about politics,” but rather “leveling the playing field.”
It is unclear if Atkinson will look into this matter. The Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community said it has no comment.