Acting intelligence chief defends his handling of complaint
WASHINGTON — Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Thursday defended his decision not to immediately share with Congress an extraordinary complaint by an intelligence community whistleblower alleging that President Donald Trump used his office to solicit interference by a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign.
Maguire told the House intelligence committee on Thursday during three hours of testimony that he consulted about the complaint with officials at the Justice Department and the White House, but was not able to turn over the document until it was resolved whether it contained material protected by executive privilege.
Democrats hammered the intelligence chief for his decision, arguing that the law explicitly demands that the DNI “shall” transmit whistleblower complaints to the intelligence oversight committees.
Maguire repeatedly stressed that the nature of the complaint, which focused on actions by the president, was extraordinary and presented unique considerations.
Much of the complaint rests on a phone call that Trump had on July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he offered U.S. assistance in any investigation of Trump’s political opponents, including the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Lawmakers questioned why Maguire sought the guidance of executive branch lawyers when the law does not require him to do so.
“I just thought it would be prudent to have another opinion,” Maguire said, noting that when he saw the complaint, he was struck by how much of it focused on Trump’s phone call with a foreign leader.
Maguire said he first sought guidance from the White House Counsel’s Office and next from the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. Officials then raised the possibility that the complaint could be covered by executive privilege, but no one reached a definitive ruling, Maguire said.
The Office of Legal Counsel also found that the complaint did not meet the statutory definition of an “urgent concern” under the whistleblower law. That was significant, because the law says that such matters are supposed to be turned over to Congress.
The inspector general ultimately informed Congress about the existence of the complaint, but not its substance, a decision that Maguire said he supported.
Democrats pressed Maguire on why he still didn’t go to Congress with a copy of the complaint, given that even matters not deemed an urgent concern have historically been provided to the intelligence committees.
“It was not stonewalling. I was not receiving direction from anybody,” Maguire said. “I have to comply with the way the law is, not the way some people would like it do be.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the committee chairman, questioned Maguire about why he had sought advice from the White House when the president is the subject of the complaint and said the law demanded that Maguire give the complaint to lawmakers.
“When the Congress said that something shall be done, and when that something involves wrongdoing of the president, it is not an exception to the statute,” Schiff said.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the committee’s ranking member, derided the complaint as “fake news” and accused Democrats and journalists of a conspiracy to gin up baseless allegations against Trump.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire appears before the House intelligence committee.