What happens when law enforcement officials who are charged with defending our country — and are overseen by the president — conclude that a leading threat to our free and fair elections is the president himself?

Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence, is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning. Maguire is the first witness in the Democrats’ formal inquiry into whether to impeach President Trump.

Maguire will testify about the explosive whistleblower complaint that the Justice Department directed him to keep from Congress, in apparent violation of the law, and several new developments in this developing scandal will sharpen the questioning that he’ll face.

First, The Post reports extraordinary new details about the whistleblower complaint. As you know, the complaint involves a July 25 call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to interfere in a U.S. election by investigating the role that Joe Biden, a likely general-election opponent, played in a fake scandal that Trumpworld invented out of nothing.

As the Post investigative team reveals, the whistleblower complaint focuses on that call, but it has a lot more: It paints a picture of efforts by Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukrainian officials that were much broader and more sustained than we knew.

There’s also this, from a person who has read the complaint:

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, this person said.
The whistleblower alleges that is what officials did with Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, an action that alarmed the intelligence community inspector general and prompted him to request that the White House retain records of the Zelensky call, the person who read the complaint said.

The New York Times further fleshes out this notion of a much broader pressure campaign on Ukraine by reporting on a second call Trump placed to Zelensky, just hours after Zelensky was elected on April 21:

He urged Mr. Zelensky to coordinate with Mr. Giuliani and to pursue investigations of “corruption,” according to people familiar with the call, the details of which have not previously been reported.

At this point, the Times reports, Giuliani had already been actively trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden. It’s clear Giuliani had been doing all of this at Trump’s behest, because Giuliani has admitted that he consults with Trump about everything he does on this front.

So what we have now is that the campaign involved multiple calls by Trump to Zelensky, as part of a much broader effort by Trump and Giuliani to press Ukraine to interfere in a U.S. election on Trump’s behalf — and on top of that, White House officials tried to hide records of calls he made as part of this effort.

Importantly, all of that is in the whistleblower’s complaint, and even worse, when the inspector general of the intelligence community read that complaint, he grew “alarmed” enough to demand that the White House retain records of the key July 25 call.

This further underscores the seriousness of keeping all this from Congress. Indeed, after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the Intelligence Committee, read the complaint, he commented that the Justice Department’s role in blocking it from Congress “throws the leadership of the department into further ill repute.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Maguire will be asked about his role in all of this — and also the role that Attorney General William P. Barr and the Justice Department played in it.

Questions for Maguire

At this point, it’s important to recall that the complaint was referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Legal analyst Rick Hasen argues that Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president might amount to soliciting a thing of value from foreign sources, a campaign finance crime. But the Justice Department declined to prosecute without even mounting a full investigation.

So it will be reasonable to ask Maguire whether he thought that Trump’s pressure — not just in the July 25 call, but in other episodes recounted by the whistleblower — amounted to possible criminality.

Barr’s role in all of this should also come under scrutiny. The details of the call show Trump directing Zelensky to talk not just to Giuliani, but also to Barr, about investigating Biden. Though the Justice Department has denied any such role, here we have Trump casually suggesting that the U.S.’s chief law enforcement official should play a lead role in collaborating with a foreign power to investigate his political opponent.

What does Maguire think of that?

Also, it’s worth asking Maguire whether Barr’s role in all of this should have led the attorney general to recuse himself from any role in deciding that the complaint didn’t merit further Justice Department action. And how deeply was Barr involved in that decision?

The biggest question of all

But in the end, perhaps the biggest question relates to Maguire’s role, as DNI, in defending our elections from outside interference. We know that the whistleblower, an intelligence officer, saw Trump’s actions as a threat to our elections. We also know that multiple other national security officers were working furiously behind the scenes to prevent Trump from mounting that pressure on Zelensky — so they, too, apparently saw this as a threat in similar terms.

This threat is twofold, by the way. It concerns both the pressure campaign directed against Zelensky and the efforts documented by the whistleblower to cover that campaign up.

So: Does Maguire view what the whistleblower complaint details about Trump’s conduct as a serious threat to our free and fair elections?

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