Editor's note: The first paragraph of this story has been edited after Sen. Thom Tillis' press secretary argued after publication that it mischaracterized Tillis' stance on the Ukraine whistleblower allegation.

"Tillis was speaking generally about whistleblower protections, not the Ukraine complaint, and he even conditioned what he was saying based on a complaint being substantiated and the need for guilt not to be assumed from an allegation," Daniel Keylin said.

Republican United States Sen. Thom Tillis called maintaining whistleblower protections and integrity "critically important."

In August, an unnamed person, alleged to be a CIA officer, filed a federal whistleblower’s report claiming Trump illegally asked a foreign power to investigate a Democratic rival for personal political gain.

The report prompted House Democrats to begin a formal impeachment inquiry based on a July phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

According to a call summary released by the White House, Trump requests Zelensky's assistance in investigating the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, and for help locating a Democratic National Committee computer server Trump believes is in Ukraine. Trump's request comes after Zelensky said Ukraine wants to purchase more anti-tank Javelin missiles from the United States government to help them fight pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine.

With the Democrats' impeachment inquiry picking up steam, Trump and other congressional Republicans have called for the identity of the whistleblower to be revealed. Trump went as far as accusing the person of spying on him and equating it to treason. Federal law protects the whistleblower’s anonymity.

Tillis, the junior senator from North Carolina, said in a Wednesday morning phone interview with the Journal that it's “critically important” the integrity of the whistleblower programs be maintained.

“I think it’s important, provided someone has a substantiated complaint, that we need to make sure that we encourage people if they see something they don’t think is right that it goes through a process,” Tillis told the Journal.

“But, we also have to be careful and not necessarily assume that an allegation is correct. It’s a new set of information that we should do the homework (on). I think on a bipartisan basis we all agree that the whistleblower programs are important. It’s a big government and not everyone working in it is an angel."

Forsyth County Democratic Party Chair Larry Johnson said the rule of law in the United States protects whistleblowers, but he is somewhat surprised that Tillis publicly expressed desire to maintain the integrity of whistleblower programs.

“I'm a little surprised, but my expectation is that all of our representatives will look at what the whistleblower said and look at it to see if it’s factual or if it’s true and make their decisions objectively,” Johnson said. “The whistleblower laws are on the books, so if he supports them I’m very happy.”

While he is one of the few Republicans who are seemingly in favor of protecting whistleblowers, and expressed a desire to examine the facts at hand before rushing to judgment, Tillis made it clear he thinks the latest allegations of wrongdoing against Trump are part of a long-running effort to unseat the president.

“It’s another chapter in the continuing saga that started before the president ever got sworn-in to negate the 2016 election,” Tillis said “I’ve read the (call) transcript and I’ve read the (whistleblower) complaint, and I am shocked that they would go to an impeachment inquiry if these are the only facts they have.”

Speaking on Wednesday to a group of about 200 military veterans at Richard Childress Racing, Tillis decried the partisanship of Washington, saying the current political battles are overshadowing things that are of actual importance to the American voter.

“People say we’ve got time to focus on other things, but when you’ve got four committees that are so focused on trying to impeach the president it’s at the expense of doing things most Americans want to see get done,” Tillis told the Journal after his talk. “Funding the government, moving more veterans’ legislation, moving more regulatory regulation — things that really affect people in North Carolina.”

In a midday tweet, Trump echoed Tillis’ statement about a perceived lack of work being done by Democrats, writing: “The Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLSHIT, which is what they have been doing ever since I got overwhelmingly elected in 2016, 223-306. Get a better candidate this time, you’ll need it!”

Trump was elected in 2016 with an electoral college vote count of 304-227.

Tillis said working to aid the VA and provide health care for veterans is one of the few issues Democrats and Republicans agree on. He lauded his work with Democratic Senator and Presidential Candidate Amy Klobuchar on the Senate’s Veterans' Affairs Committee as an example of bipartisanship.

With Congress officially in recess, Tillis will continue to travel North Carolina as he works toward a 2020 reelection campaign. Aides ushered Tillis out of Richard Childress Racing’s building toward his next engagement, as he stayed beyond his scheduled time to talk with veterans and pose for pictures.

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lsanderlin@wsjournal.com

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@LeeOSanderlin

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