Tom Mueller was traveling when he got a snide Twitter message from a friend. It read, “What strings did you have to pull to make this happen?”
Mueller spent the last seven years researching, writing about and interviewing whistleblowers. Just weeks ahead of the release of his book, “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud,” a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump made international news and sparked an impeachment inquiry.
“This is a silver lining to a very dark cloud over our country right now,” Mueller said of the timing.
“Whistleblowing is going to be a major issue through impeachment through the election cycle and all this,” Mueller said. “Part of me was thrilled in the sense that this is actually going to make people pay attention to an issue that has, over seven years, become really central to the way I look at things.”
Since the whistleblower complaint against Trump in relation to a phone call with Ukraine’s president, Mueller has been busy appearing as an expert on network news more times than he can keep straight.
Mueller, who has family ties to Spokane and who now lives in Italy, arrived in the United States on Sept. 29 and has appeared on MSNC a handful of times, four CNN shows, an hourlong documentary-style piece on CNBC, a few shows on NPR, and on an episode of of PBS show “Amanpour and Company” on Monday.
“There’s a considerable range of different interviews I’ve given,” Mueller said. “Sometimes specifically focused on the Ukraine whistleblower situation and other times much more broad about my book or whistleblowing as a phenomenon.”
As the whistleblower complaints dominate news cycles, Mueller has found himself challenged by being a frequently consulted expert on the subject.
“It’s a big challenge, and it feels like a big responsibility,” Mueller said. “Relying on whistleblowers to do fundamental work of our republic, that means that our republic is unwell.”
When talking about the Ukraine whistleblower situation in particular, Mueller said he gets two “complete diametrically opposed reactions.”
One group lauds the whistleblower for calling out treason by the president while another group calls it a “palace coup” of whistleblowers working with the intelligence community to bring down government, Mueller said.
“I think both of those narratives are interesting but they’re totally misguided,” Mueller said.
These are attempts at shifting attention from the facts the whistleblower brought forward to the character and personality of the whistleblower themselves, Mueller said.
“This is whistleblower retaliation 101,” he said.
Although the current whistleblower illustrates the issues he studies, Mueller said it doesn’t hold the same personal connection that local whistleblowers do.
“Whistleblower issues at a local level are quite often much more powerful than nationally,” Mueller said. “The personal harm caused by the things that whistleblowers blow the whistle on is intense at the local level.”
Part of the rise in whistleblowing at a local level is the loss of watchdog figures in smaller communities.
“The reason that we have more and more whistleblowers is that local watchdog figures, like reporters, are going away,” Muller said. “That puts the onus on individuals inside the organization.”
Mueller plans to continue speaking on whistleblowers not only related to his book but to the news of the day.
“Trying to trigger dialogue about the underlying issues of what I’ve written is for me, very exciting,” Mueller said.
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