The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s acting intelligence chief told to turn over whistleblower complaint or face public questioning by Congress

Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, is facing pressure to give Congress a whistleblower complaint.
Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, is facing pressure to give Congress a whistleblower complaint. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has until Tuesday to turn over a whistleblower complaint regarding a “serious or flagrant” abuse involving an intelligence activity and possibly the White House.

If he fails to do so, he will be ordered by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to explain publicly on Thursday his reasons for refusing.

Last week, Schiff subpoenaed Maguire for the complaint, accusing him of violating whistleblower law by failing to have done so earlier. Maguire’s stated reasons have to do with the material involving “confidential” and “potentially privileged communications,” Schiff said in a letter Friday.

Schiff has said he is unable to discuss the complaint’s content.

The unprecedented standoff raises concerns that the White House, Justice Department or other executive branch officials are trying to block Maguire from transmitting the complaint to cover up serious misconduct, Schiff said.

“A director of national intelligence has never prevented a properly submitted whistleblower complaint that the [intelligence community inspector general] determined to be credible and urgent from being provided to the congressional intelligence committees,” Schiff said in a statement Friday. “Never.”

In his letter to Maguire, Schiff said: “The committee — and the American people — must know why, in violation of law, a whistleblower complaint is being concealed, whether the underlying conduct involves the president or those around him, and whether the White House is involved in trying to cover up this authorized disclosure.”

A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement Monday: “We are currently reviewing the request and will respond appropriately. ODNI and Acting DNI Maguire are committed to fully complying with the law and upholding whistleblower protections and have done so here.”

Steven A. Groves, a White House spokesman, declined to comment.

Trump announces shake-up at top of U.S. intelligence

Maguire was named acting director in August following the announced departure of Daniel Coats and when it became clear that President Trump would not put Coats’s deputy, Sue Gordon, in the position. Maguire was not angling for the job — he had hoped Gordon would be tapped, and it is unclear if Trump will seek to nominate him as director.

A member of the intelligence community submitted the complaint to the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, on Aug. 12. The individual once worked on the staff of the White House National Security Council, which frequently borrows intelligence community personnel. Atkinson reviewed the complaint and determined it was credible and met the law’s definition of an “urgent concern,” according to Schiff’s letter. On Aug. 26, Atkinson submitted it to Maguire, who is his boss.

At that point, Maguire had seven days to transmit the complaint and the inspector general’s determination to Congress, according to the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.

“Yet in violation of the statute’s explicit command,” Maguire refused to share the complaint and supporting material, Schiff said in his letter. He said this “marks the first time” a director of national intelligence has sought to conceal from Congress a whistleblower complaint.

In a further departure from the law, Schiff said, Maguire consulted the Justice Department about the complaint, “even though the statute does not provide” him discretion to review or reverse the inspector general’s determination or to involve another executive branch entity.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Schiff, speaking Sunday on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” said Maguire told him “essentially that he is answering to a higher authority” in refusing to turn over the complaint. Schiff added that “there are only a few people above the DNI.” Maguire, by law, reports only to the president.

On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence sent a letter to Schiff asserting that, because the complaint involves “confidential” and “potentially privileged communications” by one or more people outside the intelligence community, the director lacks authority to send the complaint to the intelligence committees, a committee aide said. That prompted the subpoena.

Said Schiff: “It’s a pretty narrow group of people that it could apply to that are both above the DNI in authority and also involve privileged communications. So I think it’s fair to assume this involves either the president or people around him or both.”

Carol D. Leonnig and Shane Harris contributed to this report.