Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee early Thursday regarding a whistleblower’s complaint about a phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s leader.
This being the central issue to the Democratic Party’s “formal impeachment inquiry” against the president, as characterized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff opened his Q & A session with a spirited attempt to get Maguire on record admitting that the whistleblower complaint “alleges serious wrongdoing by the president of the United States.”
“It’s not for me, the intelligence community to decide how the president conducts his foreign policy or his interaction with leaders of foreign countries,” Maguire countered.
“I’m not asking you to opine on how the president conducts foreign policy,” said Schiff. “I’m asking you whether as the statute requires this complaint involved serious wrongdoing, in this case, by the president of the United States, an allegation of serious wrongdoing by the president of the United States. Is that not the subject of this complaint?”
When he got Maguire to acknowledge the complaint is about a serious allegation, the chairman cut him off from further explanation to cite the inspector general finding the allegation credible, asking the director if he too found it “credible.”
“I did not criticize the inspector general’s decision on whether or not it was credible,” he responded. “My question was whether or not it meets the urgent concern and the seven-day time frame that would follow –”
“You would concur, would you not, director, that this complaint alleging serious wrongdoing by the president was credible?” Schiff asked.
“It’s not for me to judge, sir,” said Maguire.
“It is for you to judge, apparently,” Schiff shot back. “I agree it’s not for you to judge. You ‘shall’ provide it to Congress. But you did judge whether this complaint should be provided to Congress. Can we at least agree that the inspector general made a sound conclusion that this whistleblower complaint was credible?”
“That is correct,” said Maguire. “I believe that’s also made public, the decision and the recommendation by the inspector general that in fact, the allegation was credible.
Schiff continued to editorialize, shaping his opinion as fact in his questioning.
“Can we also agree that it was urgent that if the president of the United States was withholding military aid to an ally even as you received the complaint and was doing so for a nefarious reason, that is, to exercise leverage over the president of Ukraine to dig up manufactured dirt on his opponent, can we agree that it was urgent while that aid was being withheld?”
“There are two things—” Maguire began to respond, before being cut off.
“I’m talking about the lay, the common understanding of what ‘urgent’ means,” Schiff said. “Can we agree that it was urgent?”
Maguire agreed that it was “urgent and important.”
“But my job as the director of National Intelligence was to comply with the Whistleblower Protection Act, and adhere to the definition of urgent concern, which is a legal term,” he added.
They would then go back and forth over the definition of “shall,” with Schiff charging that Maguire turned to the Trump White House for that answer.
“No, sir,” Maguire informed Schiff. “There were two things, one, it appeared that it also had matters of executive privilege. I am not authorized as the Director of National Intelligence to waive executive privilege.”
Schiff tried to establish whether the White House ever exerted executive privilege and didn’t want to accept Maguire explaining that the Executive Office was “working through the executive privileges procedure to decide whether or not to exert executive privilege.”
The answer was obvious, as Maguire noted, given that President Trump just released the complaint.
In an attempt to cast suspicion on his actions, Schiff asked Maguire if he went to the White House for a second opinion after receiving the complaint, instead of the Justice Department.
“I did not go for a second opinion,” Maguire corrected him. “The question was, is the information contained here subject to executive privilege, not whether it met urgent concern.”
In a weaselly play on words, Schiff then asked the director if the “first place” he went “for advice as to whether you should provide the complaint as the statute requires to Congress was the White House?”
“I am not authorized as the Director of National Intelligence to provide executive privileged information,” Maguire explained. “I think it is prudent, as a member of the executive branch, to check to ensure that in fact, it does not.”
“I’m asking about the sequencing here,” Schiff replied. “Did you first go to the White House to determine whether you should provide a complaint to Congress?”
Again, Mag0uire cut him off at the pass.
“No, sir. That was not the question,” he said. “The question was whether or not it has executive privilege, not whether or not I should send it onto Congress.”
After painstakingly laying out the steps taken to ensure his office was in compliance in regard to the laws governing executive privilege, Schiff pressed on with his attempt to impugn Mcguire’s actions, exhibiting an elementary level understanding of what he was being told.
“So you went to the subject of the complaint for advice first about whether you should provide the complaint to Congress,” Schiff said, ignoring everything that had just been explained to him.
The director responded with the patience a parent might display to a young child.
“There were issues within this, a couple of things,” Maguire said. “One, it did appear that it has executive privilege. If it does have executive privilege, it is the White House that determines that. I cannot determine that as the Director of National Intelligence.”
Schiff launched into a rant about how the “unprecedented” nature of the process.
“Mr. Chairman, as I said in my opening statement, I believe that everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented,” Maguire informed him.
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