The nation's top intelligence official will be grilled about his handling of the complaint concerning Trump's interactions with Ukraine and his asking its president to reopen an investigation into Joe Biden and his son. Democrats are expected to press Maguire to cough up details about why the complaint was withheld until yesterday from lawmakers and instead channeled to the Justice Department, where officials determined there was nothing to see there.
- What DOJ did: Steven A. Engel, the head of DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, argued in a memo “that it was lawful for [Maguire] to refuse to turn the whistleblower complaint over to Congress — a stance that the Trump administration began to back off of as Democrats stepped up talk of potentially impeaching the president,” reported the New York Times's Charlie Savage, Michael Schmidt, and Julian Barnes report.
- Per senior Justice officials, Maguire " … made a criminal referral [to DOJ], passing to the department the inspector general’s concern that campaign finance laws might have been violated,” per The Post's Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett.
- Last week: " … the Justice Department decided there was not enough evidence to proceed with a campaign finance investigation. The decision, senior [DOJ] officials said, was made by Brian Benczkowski, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division. They said career prosecutors agreed with the decision,” per Matt and Devlin.
- New line of inquiry: “The intelligence officer who filed a whistleblower complaint about President Trump’s interactions with the leader of Ukraine raised alarms not only about what the two men said in a phone call, but also about how the White House handled records of the conversation, according to two people briefed on the complaint,” Savage, Schmidt, and Barnes report.
- And: "The complaint also alleges a pattern of obfuscation at the White House, in which officials moved the records of some of Trump’s communications with foreign officials onto a separate computer network from where they are normally stored," report my colleagues Matt, Devlin, Carol D. Leonnig and Shane Harris.
The anti-Corey Lewandowski: Maguire, his peers told Power Up, is expected to be the antithesis of Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager who last week turned in a mocking and brash performance on the Hill.
Despite his “acting” title, it's unlikely the acting DNI head will treat the high-stakes appearance as an audition for an audience of one:
- “I can't imagine anyone who cares less about that — if he were acting, nominated, or confirmed, he will be the exact same straightforward guy, providing the answers the best he can,” Michael Leitner, the former head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center director, told Power Up. “It's just an observation having worked with the guy.”
Democrats are expected to hone in on who exactly instructed Maguire to withhold the whistleblower complaint from Congress against the urging of intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who determined the complaint was of “urgent concern.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) accused Maguire of not responding to the complaint in an appropriate or timely manner. But yesterday evening, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees received the complaint in full.
Maguire denied any wrongdoing in a statement released Tuesday:
- “In light of recent reporting on the whistleblower complaint, I want to make clear that I have upheld my responsibility to follow the law every step of the way,” Maguire said.
- “I am committed to protecting whistleblowers and ensuring every complaint is handled appropriately,” Maguire added. “I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and Congress to find a resolution regarding this important matter.”
The intelligence community, under attack from a president who has consistently politicized it, will also be watching closely:
- “How do you square the talking points distributed from this White House with the reality of what the DNI and the intelligence community has said behind closed doors?," a Democratic House source asked Power Up. “Will Maguire note the massive contradiction or protect a president who has pitted the intelligence community against each other?”
- “Everyone has seen the talking points from the White House and it's literally lies,” the source added of the talking points the White House accidentally distributed yesterday to Hill Democrats.
- “The way Maguire has handled this situation has not endeared him to the people he's working with,” a former intelligence official told us.
Maguire was not Trump's first choice for the position: Trump initially nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) to replace Dan Coats after denying then-deputy director Sue Gordon the job. Trump withdrew Ratcliffe's name, however, after concerns he was too political. Maguire's background mirrors what former peers described as a duty to protect the intelligence community:
- “A former Navy SEAL, Maguire retired from the U.S. Navy in 2010 after serving 36 years. He was director of the National Counterterrorism Center before his role in the Trump administration,” CNN's Chandeleis Duster reports.
- “… Maguire was viewed as a steady hand by Democrats and Republicans alike when he was named by Mr. Trump in August to be acting director of national intelligence after the president pushed his Senate-confirmed predecessor, Daniel Coats, to step down. The president also pushed out Sue Gordon, a career intelligence official who served as Mr. Coats’s deputy,” the Wall Street Journal's Warren Strobel and Dustin Volz report.
But the extent of the tension between the White House and Maguire over the whistleblower's complaint came to light yesterday: our colleagues Greg Miller, Shane Harris and Karoun Demirjian report that the acting director “threatened to resign over concerns that the White House might attempt to force him to stonewall Congress when he testifies Thursday about an explosive whistleblower complaint about the president, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.”
- “The officials said that [Maguire], who was thrust into the top intelligence post last month, warned the White House that he was not willing to withhold information from Congress, where he is scheduled to testify in open and closed hearings on Thursday.”
- Maguire and the White House denied the story. However, “other officials said that Maguire had pushed the White House to make an explicit legal decision on whether it was going to assert executive privilege over the whistleblower complaint, which centers on a call that Trump made with the leader of Ukraine in late July.”
Bottom line — or not: “How this surfaced and how it is now in the public is really a sideshow,” a source who worked with Maguire previously said. “This is about the president and the constitution now.”
At The White House
NOTABLE DEVELOPMENT: The whistleblower's "identified multiple White House officials as witnesses to potential presidential misconduct who could corroborate the complaint, the people said — adding that the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, interviewed witnesses," the Times's Savage, Schmidt, and Barnes first reported.
The whistle-blower "heard about the call secondhand from unidentified White House officials who expressed concern that Mr. Trump had 'abused his authority or acted unlawfully in connection with foreign diplomacy,'" according to a Justice Department memo "which referred only to a single phone call between Mr. Trump and an unnamed foreign leader."
On The Hill
🚨 218 MEMBERS: A majority of the House now supports opening an impeachment inquiry into Trump, according to our colleagues JM Rieger, Amber Phillips and Kevin Schaul's definitive list.
- The numbers: 217 of the 235 House Democrats support an opening an inquiry along with one independent (Rep. Justin Amash, who was formerly a Republican).
- Watch this: 25 of those members would go as far as voting today to impeach Trump. Remember, it takes a simple majority (218) to vote on articles and formally impeach the president but we are still a ways out from that step, if it does occur. The Senate would then have to vote to convict the president in order to oust him and we're still a ways from that, too.
- The one who matters: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after reading the transcript of Trump's call with Ukraine called it “laughable to think this is anywhere close to an impeachable offense.” (Politico has a good piece on McConnell's stance).
RED WALL?: “Several Senate Republicans were privately stunned,” our colleague Bob Costa reports, as they “questioned the White House’s judgment after it released a rough transcript of [Trump’s] call with the Ukraine president that showed Trump offering the help of the U.S. attorney general to investigate [Biden].”
- Not a good idea: “Three other GOP senators complained privately in discussions with The Washington Post that the White House erred by releasing the transcript, arguing that it sets a precedent for future presidents about disclosure of calls with foreign leaders and could be seen as a concession to Democrats,” our colleague writes.
Most Republicans, for now, however are not publicly questioning Trump's actions. But Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) publicly vented their frustrations.
“It remains troubling in the extreme. It’s deeply troubling,” Romney said about the transcript.
Sasse speaks: “Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons and say there’s no 'there' there when there’s obviously a lot that’s very troubling there,” Sasse told reporters after reviewing the complaint. “ … Democrats ought not be using words like ‘impeach’ before they knew anything about the actual substance.”
The Nebraska senator is an interesting case: He is up for reelection next year and faces a primary challenger. But after making waves early in Trump's presidency, Sasse was endorsed by Trump just last week.
The ones to watch: The trio of Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine) are the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents next November, making them among the group of Republicans to watch for potential breaks with the White House. So far though, they and their colleagues are nowhere near that point.
- McSally scoffed at the notion of impeachment: She deemed it a “kamikaze mission,” Politico's Burgess Everett reports.
- Collins stayed mum on the entire subject: “I should make clear that if there are articles of impeachment I would be a juror, and as a juror I think it’s inappropriate for me to reach conclusions about evidence or to comment on the proceedings in the House,” she told reporters.
- And Gardner largely avoided commenting on the topic: “Gardner said Trump's conversations with the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden and his family as well as a whistleblower complaint about the president's conversations with a world leader are a 'serious issue,'" Everett writes. “Asked if he still supported Trump’s reelection, Gardner declined to address the question: 'Let’s find out what’s happening. Let’s get to the bottom of this.'”
Outside the Beltway
WHY UBER MAY NOT PRIORITIZE YOUR SAFETY FIRST: Investigators say Uber has a three-strike policy for drivers facing complaints, but that executives have overruled their own employees to keep high-performing drivers on the road. In some instances, that has meant overlooking allegations of sexual misconduct. Even when a driver is banned from the app, Uber does not report the behavior to police, its competitors or background check firms, our colleague Greg Bensinger reports in a bombshell story.
- A former investigator says what it's really like: “Investigators are there first to protect Uber; and then next to protect the customer,” Lilli Flores, a former investigator in Phoenix, who worked nearly two years for Uber before leaving in November, told our colleague. “Our job is to keep the tone of our conversations with customers and drivers so that Uber is not held liable.”
- Uber disputes its policies put the company first, but the story contains a number troubling episodes. "For instance, a New York-area driver allegedly made three separate sexual advances on riders, said an investigator assigned to the case. After an executive overruled the investigator, the driver was allowed to continue working until a fourth incident, when a rider claimed he raped her," our colleague writes. Uber also argues that its policies are "survivor-centric" since it is up to the rider to go to police.
- Lyft, in case you were wondering, has faced similar allegations: "Interviews with Lyft employees indicate that the company also seeks to limit its liability for driver and passenger behavior, in part by deactivating drivers or riders. Earlier this month, 14 women filed suit against Lyft saying they had been sexually assaulted by drivers over the past two years," our colleague writes. A spokesman for Lyft said safety is "fundamental" to and that it works closely with regulators.
Here's why this matters: "Many companies go to great lengths to limit their liability," our colleague writes. "But gig economy companies fall in a new category where the question of their liability is still up in the air. There is a different standard of accountability than for the taxi industry, where cab companies generally maintain direct control over the condition and quality of rides and can therefore bear full responsibility for what happens during a fare, according to fleet managers."
NETANYAHU IS NOT DEAD YET: "After the polls closed in the Israeli election last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have suffered a humiliating blow," the New York Times's Isabel Kershner reports. But now, "Mr. Netanyahu — long called 'the magician' for his political survival skills — was back on center stage."
- What happened: "President Reuven Rivlin chose him to try to cobble together a coalition, opening the door to a continued shift to the right for Israel and offering a potential political lifeline to Mr. Netanyahu, who faces a looming indictment for corruption."
- Why this may not still not be the end of the story: "Netanyahu’s path to forming a governing coalition is lined with hazards. He has pledged to include ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions, and that probably will deter potential secular partners," our colleagues Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash report. "He also has endorsed sharing power with Blue and White, but Gantz promised during the campaign never to join forces with Likud unless Netanyahu stepped down."