Here’s what we learned in Thursday morning’s public hearing.
Maguire doesn’t think he did anything wrong in keeping the complaint from Congress
He says he followed protocol: He got a whistleblower complaint that he immediately regarded as “serious,” detailing allegations of abuse of power by the president. So Maguire went to the White House’s lawyers to make sure it wouldn’t fall under executive privilege. Then he went to the Justice Department’s lawyers to get their advice about whether this complaint was “urgent” enough to require being sent to Congress. And they decided it wasn’t, so he couldn’t. “I have to work with what I got,” he said.
The problem with how Maguire handled this, Democrats argue, is that he failed to take into context the politics of the moment. This isn’t a typical whistleblower complaint; those normally deal with bad-acting middle managers. It’s a complaint against the president of the United States.
“Do you think it’s appropriate that you go to a department run by someone who’s the subject of the complaint to get advice — or who is a subject of the complaint or implicated in the complaint for advice as to whether you should provide that to Congress? Did — did that conflict of interest concern you?” asked House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
Under questioning from Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Maguire brought up his being new to the job as a reason he handled the complaint the way he did. He received the complaint on his second day as the acting DNI: “I am the acting director of national intelligence, and I was still using Garmin to get to work,” he said.
Maguire refused to say whether he talked to the president about the complaint
Maguire said all conversations he has with the president are secret, so he wouldn’t share whether he talked about the complaint with the president. He also didn’t deny that they had that conversation, repeatedly saying under questioning from Democrats: “I speak to the president about a lot of things, and anything that I say to the president of the United States in any form is privileged.”
That response clearly frustrated Democrats, who couldn’t surmise whether Maguire’s refusal to provide any insight on this was based on principle that the intelligence chief should be able to speak freely with the president without Congress knowing, or whether he was hiding something.
Maguire didn’t do anything to fuel attempts to discredit the whistleblower
Page five of the report, by intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, about the whistleblower says he wants to point out that the whistleblower has “arguable political bias … in favor of a rival candidate.” In the very next sentence, Atkinson also determined that didn’t affect the credibility of the complaint.
Trump’s Republican allies in Congress glommed onto that, and Trump himself has called the whistleblower, without knowing his or her identity, “a political hack.”
But under questioning from Schiff, Maguire backed up the whistleblower's credibility.
SCHIFF: You don’t believe the whistleblower is a political hack?MAGUIRE: I believe the whistleblower is operating in good faith and has followed the law.
A few minutes later:
SCHIFF: Do you have any reason to accuse him or her of disloyalty to the country or suggest he is beholden to anything else but the country?MAGUIRE: Absolutely not. I believe the whistleblower followed the steps every way.
At least one Republican said the transcript of the call was not okay
Here’s Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), when he got his turn to speak, addressing the president directly: “This is not okay. That conversation is not okay, and I think it’s disappointing to the American public when they read this transcript.”
At this point, we can count on our hands the number of Republican lawmakers who have publicly criticized the president for this call.
But most Republicans were backing the president
Especially the top Republican on the intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). He used his five-minute opening statement to accuse Democrats of working with journalists to try to overturn the 2016 election and connect the matter at hand to other ways Trump allies think Democrats are conspiring to get rid of Trump.
“Today, Democrats accuse the president of pressuring Ukrainians to take actions that would help himself or hurt his political opponents, and yet there are numerous examples of Democrats doing the exact same thing,” Nunes said. “And, of course, Democrats on this very committee negotiated with people who they thought were Ukrainians in order to obtain nude pictures of Trump.”
Nunes misconstrued the facts in his opening statement — he said that former vice president Joe Biden solicited help from Ukraine, when the facts don’t bear that out. Or Nunes conflated leaking with whistleblowing.
But ignoring the facts of the call and this complaint is something many Republicans are having to do as they defend the president on this matter.