Maguire, who had been the primary target of Democrats’ anger after he declined to provide the complaint to Congress, didn’t relish the attention. “My life would have been simpler without becoming the most famous man in the United States,” he said during the tense three-hour hearing.
But what began as an interrogation of Maguire evolved into a dry run for impeachment hearings. Democrats, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, laid out allegations contained in the whistleblower’s complaint, after an unclassified version was publicly released shortly before the hearing.
In his opening remarks, Schiff called the complaint “the most graphic evidence yet that the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office.”
Republicans tried to undermine the document’s credibility, noting that the whistleblower was not a direct witness to the events described.
Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the committee’s ranking Republican, derided the complaint as “fake news” and accused Democrats and journalists of a conspiracy to gin up baseless allegations against Trump. He called the complaint and media coverage of it an “information warfare operation” against the president.
For Maguire, the hearing was his first chance to defend his decision not to immediately turn over the complaint to Congress after it was filed with the intelligence community inspector general on Aug. 12.
Maguire told the intelligence committee that he consulted about the complaint with officials at the White House and the Justice Department and was not able to turn over the document until it was resolved whether it contained material protected by executive privilege.
Democrats hammered Maguire’s decision, arguing that the law explicitly demands that the director of national intelligence “shall” transmit whistleblower complaints to the intelligence committees.
“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.
Maguire stressed that the nature of the complaint, which focused on actions by the president, presented unique considerations. Much of the complaint rests on a phone call that Trump had on July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he offered U.S. assistance in an 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.
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 raised the possibility that the complaint could be covered by executive privilege, but no one reached a definitive ruling on that, 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.
“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 to be.”
Maguire told lawmakers that he supported the right of the whistleblower, whose complaint helped lead to an impeachment inquiry, to raise concerns. He said that he doesn’t know the person’s identity and that no one in the administration has asked him to find it.
Maguire expressed “my support for the whistleblower,” who he said had followed regular procedures for raising a concern with the inspector general.
In a statement to The Washington Post, the three lawyers representing the whistleblower said, “While we disagree with the legal analysis/decisions discussed by the Acting DNI this morning regarding urgent concerns, we sincerely appreciate his firm statements of support for whistleblower protection in general and specifically that our client acted in good faith and followed the law every step of the way.”
The lawyers, Andrew Bakaj, Charles McCullough and Mark Zaid, said the inspector general was entitled to continue with his investigation of the complaint.
“It is imperative the nation understands and witnesses that the system can work and that whistleblowers have a right to anonymity when they follow the law,” they said.