Act­ing in­tel­li­gence chief de­fends his han­dling of com­plaint

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Shane Har­ris, Karoun Demir­jian and Ellen Nakashima

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.

CHIP SOMODEVILL­A/GETTY

Act­ing Direc­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Joseph Maguire ap­pears be­fore the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

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