Michael Moore has a message for federal employees: he wants them to blow the whistle on the Trump administration.
Moore has set up a new website called Trumpileaks to foster securely sharing information towards that end.
A statement on the site reads:
This site provides the most high-powered encryption technology to enable courageous whistleblowers to privately communicate with me and my team. Patriotic Americans in government, law enforcement or the private sector with knowledge of the crimes, lies and general misconduct committed by Donald J. Trump and his associates are encouraged to blow the whistle in the name of protecting the United States of America from tyranny.
It goes on to list several applications and methods that would be whistleblowers can use to securely transmit information to Moore. Among the apps included are Signal, Peerio, and WhatsApp. Moore also has listed a PO box in New York that documents can be mailed to anonymously.
Moore is a filmmaker and author who has been an outspoken critic of the president and is currently working on a documentary film called Fahrenheit 11/9 about the Trump administration.
Some of the apps Moore is encouraging prospective whistleblowers to use have been the subject of an investigation at the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA responded in February to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information about agency employees’ use of the Signal app in which it said that the records requested were exempt from the request because they were compiled for “law enforcement purposes” and their disclosure “could reasonably be expected to interfere with ongoing enforcement proceedings.” (See EPA Investigating Employee Covert Activity)
The EPA is one agency that has had particularly high proposed budget cuts by the new administration, and reports of federal employees at that agency using encrypted apps to communicate in protest surfaced earlier in the year. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology even requested that the EPA Inspector General conduct an investigation in response to the reports out of concern that such tactics would violate federal record keeping requirements.
Moore is not the first public figure to encourage federal employees to leak information. Some in the media floated the idea of leaking President Trump’s tax returns when the White House refused to release them. However, if an IRS employee were to do that, he or she would face removal from federal service or even criminal penalties. (See Some in the Media Suggest IRS Employees Should Leak Trump’s Tax Returns)
The announcement about Moore’s website comes on the heels of the announcement that a federal contractor has been arrested for allegedly leaking a top secret document about Russian election interference to The Intercept. Reality Leigh Winner, the woman who was arrested, faces prison time if convicted on the alleged charges.
FedSmith.com author Mathew Tully is an attorney who specializes in representing federal employees. As he noted in a recent article, the burden of proof for proving retaliation is in response to whistleblowing frequently falls on the employee.
“Section 2302(f)(2) of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2012 (WPEA) states that an employee must prove that a personnel action was taken ‘in reprisal for’ disclosing agency misconduct, and not simply ‘because of’ such disclosure in order to make a prima facie case of retaliation,” wrote Tully. (See Proving Retaliation is ‘In Reprisal For’ Blowing the Whistle)
FedSmith.com author Ralph Smith also recently wrote about whistleblowing as it pertains to resisting policy change imposed during a change in administrations. Smith suggested any federal employee who is considering becoming a whistleblower would be well advised to seek legal advice beforehand:
Leaking information is a dangerous game. If federal employees did leak information from U.S. intelligence agency reports, it is a serious matter. Any federal employee who engaged in this activity or is thinking of engaging in this activity may want to consult with an attorney. Whistleblower protections may not be sufficient. Moreover, self-classification as a whistleblower is relatively meaningless and the protections may not apply anyway.
People who encourage federal employees to share information as whistleblowers may have good intentions, but they may also not be aware of the significant risks they are encouraging those employees to take.