Trump-Ukraine whistleblower complaint: Joseph Maguire faces Congress

The acting director of national intelligence testifies before the House Intelligence Committee about a whistleblower complaint centering on President Donald Trump and his phone call with Ukraine's president.

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By Adam Edelman

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire faced a grilling from members of Congress on Thursday about a whistleblower complaint that centers on President Donald Trump and his interactions with Ukraine.

The complaint says White House officials were so concerned about what the president said in a July call with Ukraine's new leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that they intervened to "lock down" the transcript of the conversation. In the call, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son, who had business dealings in the country.

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The intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, deemed the complaint an "urgent concern" that he was required by law to provide to the congressional intelligence committees. But Maguire refused to do so on the advice of the Justice Department, resulting in a standoff with Congress that ultimately resulted in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backing a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Here are the highlights of the hearings:

Burr and Warner 'committed' to getting answers

The Republican and Democratic leads of the Senate Intelligence Committee addressed reporters after hearing from both Maguire and Atkinson, who also spoke to lawmakers on Thursday.

Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said that Maguire and Atkinson "were extremely forthcoming" and "extremely helpful at trying to fill in some of the things that we haven't been able to pick up from the published documents." He said the hearings generated "more questions than we asked today" but said that lawmakers were "committed" to getting answers.

Vice Chair Mark Warner, D-Va., stressed the importance of maintaining "the integrity of the whistleblower process."

"People need to be able to come forward when they see incidences of waste, fraud, or abuse, or inappropriate behavior," he said.

Heinrich has 'a lot more questions than answers'

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters, following Maguire’s closed-door interview with the panel, that he left it with “a lot more questions than answers.”

“I think there are a lot more folks that we need to be able to ask questions of to get to the bottom of all this,” he added.

Wyden calls whistleblower's complaint 'very credible'

Following his public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning, Maguire met with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors.

Upon the conclusion of that session, committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told reporters that he found the situation “very troubling.”

"In this instance what we have are communications from president to president," Wyden said. "There are no buffers here, and that’s what makes this very different and especially troubling to me.

Wyden, who serves as the vice chairman of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, also said he found the whistleblower’s complaint credible.

“To me it is clear on the basis of even what was unclassified that this is an individual with an extraordinary amount of credible information," he said. "I felt it was very credible."

Schiff peppers Maguire with long list of questions

Schiff took a final crack at Maguire as the hearing came to a close, peppering him with a long list of questions aimed at getting him to say that the situation described by the whistleblower complaint, which was made public with minimal redactions, is worthy of further investigation.

But Maguire wouldn’t take the bait.

"Do you believe it should be investigated?" Schiff asked.

"I don’t believe it is corroborated by other folks," Maguire said. "This is secondhand information." He added, "I’m not criticizing the whistleblower."

Schiff pointed out that the intelligence committee inspector general found the allegations "credible."

But Maguire said he felt his own opinion on whether further investigation was warranted shouldn’t matter.

"I think you have all the material the committee needs," he said. "I have done my responsibility.” Corroborating the allegations and further investigating the situation “is on the shoulders of the legislative branch and this committee,” he added.

Maguire then said he would agree an investigation would be warranted if the complaint had alleged “election interference" — but he claimed it did not.

"The complaint is not about election interference. It was about a classified confidential diplomatic conversation," he said, prompting an agitated Schiff to finish the thought.

"Involving election interference sought by the president," Schiff said. "It doesn't take it out of the realm of seeking foreign assistance. It makes it all the more pernicious."

Schiff ultimately vowed to Maguire that he would get to the bottom of the matter at hand.

“I can tell you, we are going to find out,” he said.

Maguire 'would not know' whether whistleblower is biased

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., asked Maguire whether he felt the whistleblower acted “in good faith” in making the complaint.

“I do,” Maguire said.

“And without bias?” added the congressman.

“I do not know about that,” Maguire replied, adding, “I would not know whether biased or not biased. I just don’t know."

Krishnamoorthi also asked Maguire, who took office only last month, whether he had discussed the complaint with his predecessor, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, or Coats’ deputy, Sue Gordon. Coats announced his resignation in July and Gordon left the administration shortly after.

“Did you discuss the complaint with Coats?” the congressman asked.

"I wouldn’t have taken the job if I did," Maguire answered, adding, "To the best of my ability, I do not think that either Director Coats or our Principal Deputy Sue Gordon had any sense whatsoever about this whistleblower complaint."

Maguire: 'Anything I say to the president is confidential'

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., revisited an earlier topic, repeatedly pressing Maguire over whether he discussed the whistleblower complaint with Trump.

"My conversations" with Trump "are privileged," Maguire answered.

Asked if he was "denying" that he spoke about the complaint with Trump, Maguire said, "I speak to the president, and anything I say to the president is confidential."

Hurd asks about decision to suspend aid for Ukraine

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, one of the few Republicans to publicly express concern about the phone call transcript and the whistleblower complaint, asked Maguire about reports that nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine had been frozen — which was also stated in the complaint.

"I have no knowledge of that," Maguire said, adding, "I am not sure whether anyone in the ODNI has knowledge of that."

Tense exchange on a possible cover-up

Swalwell also asked Maguire about the existence of a secret electronic filing system alleged in the whistleblower complaint that was used only for information of an "especially sensitive nature."

The complaint alleged that the transcript of the July 25 call had been loaded into that system, and that, according to White House officials the whistleblower spoke with, it was "not the first time" the Trump administration placed a presidential transcript "into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information."

Swalwell asked Maguire whether he would "want to know, considering you are the director of national intelligence, and transcripts are being moved into a secret intelligence system, whether other transcripts, perhaps the president’s calls with Vladimir Putin, [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] of Saudi Arabia … would you want to know if those are also being improperly moved because the president is trying to cover up something?"

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"How the White House, the executive office of the president and the National Security Council conduct their business is their business," Maguire replied.

"If there is cover-up activity … that could compromise America’s secrets, is that right?" Swalwell asked.

"There is an allegation of a cover up," Maguire answered. "I'm sure an investigation, and before this committee, might lend credence or disprove that. But right now all we have is an allegation from second-hand information from a whistleblower."

Election security emerges as a hot topic

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., engaged in a very tense exchange with Maguire in which he probed him over whether he felt he was responsible for "preventing election interference by a foreign government."

Maguire’s failure to answer in the affirmative immediately led to a tense back-and-forth that resulted a moment later in Maguire saying that it was, in fact, "the top priority of the intelligence community."

Swalwell followed up by saying what Trump engaged in with Zelenskiy, in his view, constituted election interference.

Schiff then chimed in, putting the two arguments together.

“If that conversation involved the president requesting help in the form of intervention in our election, is that not an issue of interference in our election?”

Maguire replied, “Once again, this went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” before being interrupted by Schiff.

"You are not suggesting, are you, that the president is somehow immune from the laws that preclude a U.S. person from seeking foreign help in a U.S. election — are you?" Schiff asked.

"What I am saying is that no one, none of us, is above the law in this country," Maguire said.

Giuliani comes up

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., focused his questions on Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is mentioned frequently in the transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy, and referred to in the whistleblower complaint as a "central figure" in the matter.

Quigley asked Maguire for his view on Giuliani’s "role"

"I respectfully refer to the White House to comment on the president’s personal lawyer," Maguire replied.

On the matter of leaks

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, asked Maguire about the leaks to the media that first revealed that a whisteblower had made the complaint and whether the source of those leaks should be investigated as a criminal matter.

Maguire said he would not oppose a criminal investigation of anything lawmakers felt constituted wrongdoing.

When Stewart pressed him on whether that would include leaks, Maguire replied, “Yes congressman, any wrongdoing.”

Speier asks about reported threat to resign

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., pressed Maguire on a series of issues, including whether he had threatened to resign — as The Washington Post reported Wednesday — if he would not be permitted to testify freely.

“No, congresswoman, I did not,” Maguire replied.

Speier also asked why he would go “directly to the White House” after being notified of the whistleblower complaint.

Maguire responded that he did so for further clarification because “the allegation that is made by the whistleblower is secondhand information.”

“Do you believe the whisteblower was spying” on the president?, Speier asked.

“I believe the whistleblower complied with the law,” Maguire replied.

Asked whether he believed the whistleblower “is on our country’s side," Maguire said the current whistleblower, and all whistleblowers, “are doing what they perceive to be the right thing."

Questions about complaint’s credibility

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, used his time to quiz Maguire on whether the whistleblower complaint was “credible.”

Maguire replied that the intelligence community inspector general had concluded that it was.

'Urgent concern'

In his questioning, Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., noted that “this appears to be the first intelligence community whistleblower complaint withheld from Congress.”

“I believe it might be,” Maguire replied.

Carson also asked Maguire whether he felt rules surrounding executive privilege “preempt laws that safeguard” election security and national security?”

“No … it does not,” Maguire replied.

Maguire added that he “didn’t receive direction from anybody,” including the White House, to withhold the complaint“

The question came down to 'urgent concern,' which is a legal definition,” he said. “I was just trying to work through the law the way it was written.”

Schiff chimed in to confirm that Maguire’s testimony was that he had not been “directed” by anyone to withhold the complaint from the committee.

“I did not, sir,” Maguire said. He added that he simply “delayed it, because it did not direct the statutory definition of urgent concern.”

"At no time was there ever intent on my part to withhold the complaint from you … or the committee," he said.

A ‘chilling effect’?

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., expressed “concern” that “what has happened with this whistleblower” will have a “chilling effect” on future whisteblowers coming forward.

Maguire replied that he is doing everything to make sure that doesn’t occur, but added, “I don’t disagree with what you said.”

Sewell also asked whether Maguire could “assure the whistleblower can speak to Congress with the full protections of the Whistleblower Protection Act.”

He replied by saying he was working with the committee to make sure that would happen, prompting Schiff to interrupt and ask him bluntly if he would commit to making sure that the whistleblower would be able to testify “fully and freely.”

“Yes, congressman,” Maguire said.

Maguire won't say whether he spoke with Trump about whistleblower's complaint

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., asked Maguire whether he had spoken to the president about the complaint.

“My conversations with the president,” Maguire says, “are privileged.”

Nunes asks about release of call transcript

Nunes prodded Maguire to weigh in on the value of releasing transcripts of calls between the president and foreign leaders, which he said should always remain “confidential.”

Maguire reiterated that the situation is “unprecedented.”

Wrapping up his questioning, a smiling Nunes issued a warning to Maguire: “Be careful what you say, because they’re going to use these words against you."

Nunes accuses Dems of 'information warfare'

In his opening remaks, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the committee, spent most of his time attacking Democrats for their “latest” use of “information warfare” against the president.

When he began his questions, Nunes quizzed Maguire on the the public nature of the whistleblower complaint.

“Are you aware of any cases like this that were put into the spotlight?” Nunes asked.

Maguire said he was not, again saying “this case is unique and unprecedented.”

Maguire says he doesn't know who whistleblower is

Schiff pressed Maguire on his timeline and the claims of executive privilege that contributed to the delay in providing the complaint to congressional oversight committees.

It was “not the timeline I would have desired,” Maguire replied.

Schiff then repeatedly asked Maguire whether he felt the whistleblower was a “political hack.”

When he answered the first time, Maguire said, “I don’t know who the whistleblower is.”

Asked again, he said the whistleblower was “operating in good faith.”

Maguire: 'I believe everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented'

Schiff, initiating his questioning of Maguire, immediately asked whether the “complaint involved serious wrongdoing in this case by the president.”

Maguire responded that “it is not for me to decide” what constitutes wrongdoing by the president, but added, “yes, that is the subject of the allegation of this complaint."

Maguire, under questioning about his timeline of events, again told Schiff, “I believe everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented.”

Maguire explains why he didn't release the complaint

In his opening statement, Maguire explained that he did not immediately forward the complaint to congressional oversight committees within seven days, as is required under current intelligence community whistleblower laws, because the Office of Legal Counsel had concluded that the complaint did not meet the statutory requirement for him “to transmit [it] to the committee.”

He said his office had discussed the matter with White House Office of Legal Counsel and that he was advised that "much of the information in the complaint was, in fact, subject to executive privilege — a privilege that I do not have the authority to waive."

After saying he thought the matter "unprecedented," Maguire added, “I also believe I handled this matter in full compliance with the law.”

'I am not partisan,' Maguire says

Maguire, a retired Navy vice admiral who spent 36 years as a Navy SEAL, used much of his opening statement to discuss his long history in public service.

"I am not partisan, and I am not political,” he said, adding that he supports the whistleblower “and the rights of all whistleblowers.”

Maguire then went through his timeline of events “that led us to the current” moment.

Schiff ask why DNI didn't provide the complaint to the committee

Maguire entered and took his seat at the witness table, surrounded by photographers.

The hearing room is at capacity for the public. A moment later, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., gaveled the hearing to a start and delivered an opening statement in which he said that the transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy released Wednesday, as well as the whistleblower complaint released Thursday morning, were evidence that “the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office.”

Schiff then said he wanted to know why Maguire chose not to provide the complaint to the committee within a week, as required by law, why he went to the Department of Justice for guidance on the matter, and why he allowed the subject of the complaint to play a role in deciding whether Congress would see it.