The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, agreed to testify next week in front of the House Intelligence Committee. This might be the most critical hearing in the Trump presidency.

Maguire has refused to relay to Congress as required by law the whistleblower complaint that the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, deemed “urgent." Atkinson found that it “not only falls within the DNI’s jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most important and significant responsibilities to the American people.”

One would prefer that committee counsel handle the questioning, as Barry Berke did so ably during Corey Lewandowski’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. Barring that, we would hope the chairman would pursue a coherent and forceful line of questioning with two purposes. First, establish whether the White House is obstructing the DNI from fulfilling his legal obligations, and if so, whether this defeats the purpose of the whistleblower statute. Second, lay the groundwork to explain what might be the greatest scandal of the Trump presidency: U.S. aid for campaign dirt. Here’s how the chairman might proceed:

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  • Did Atkinson make a determination that the complaint was credible and urgent?
  • Where in the law do you find your authority to supersede the whistleblower statute that requires transmission of the complaint to Congress?
  • Did the White House instruct you not to forward the complaint? Did the Justice Department? If so, who in the Justice Department was involved in the decision-making?
  • Did the White House know the identity of the whistleblower? If so, who conveyed that information?
  • The president tweeted on Friday that the whistleblower is “highly partisan.” How would he know that? How do you plan on protecting the whistleblower from retaliation now that the president has targeted him or her?
  • If the White House can order whistleblower complaints not to be delivered to Congress, how is Congress capable of exercising oversight for urgent concerns?
  • You have seen news reports and the president’s personal lawyer confirm that the president has pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a political opponent of the president. Is such action legal? Is such action a national security threat? Does such action empower a foreign government to influence a U.S. election?
  • Is there an ongoing investigation into Ukrainian interference with the 2020 election?
  • Is it your understanding that Ukrainian aid was being held up to apply pressure to Ukraine to investigate actions relating to Biden or his son?
  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has publicly stated concerning his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that “he was VERY concerned about the cut off of aid, and VERY aware of the conversations that Rudy Giuliani was having with his team. I told him it was best to ignore requests from Trump’s campaign operatives. He agreed.” Are you aware of that exchange? Have you inquired as to whether the Ukrainian government is being pressured to assist Trump’s reelection effort?

Should Maguire refuse to testify without a specific assertion of executive privilege, he should immediately be held in contempt. Congress must then go to court to compel the testimony.

It’s time to move quickly and forcefully to see whether this president is seeking to extort (virtually in plain sight) a foreign power into helping his reelection campaign. If so, this falls squarely in the category of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." If Republicans want to defend a president under such circumstances, let them. Any lawmaker unwilling to remove a president for such conduct is in violation of his or her oath and patently unfit to hold office.

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