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Acting director of US intelligence testifies on whistleblower complaint

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Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire takes his seat before testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC/CBS/CNN) — Here’s what we know and don’t so far about the whistleblower:

  • This person has tentatively agreed to meet with Congressional lawmakers.
  • The whistleblower is not scheduled to appear before Congress, a source said.
  • Lawmakers have not been told the identity of the whistleblower or where the complainant works in the government

The Inspector General of the intelligence community’s report to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire about a whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump and Ukraine has been released:

Maguire said he believes both the whistleblower who filed the complaint against President Trump and the inspector general who handled it “acted in good faith.”

“First, I want to stress I believe the whistle-blower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout,” he said. “I have every reason to believe that they have done everything by the book and followed the law.”

Maguire said the whistleblower’s complaint centered around a phone call between President Trump and a foreign leader — a kind of conversation that is “typically subject to executive privilege.”

He said executive privilege is a “privilege that I do not have the authority to wave.”

“Because of that, we were unable to immediately share the details of the complaint with this committee,” he said.

Maguire said he knew the whistleblower’s complaint was a “serious matter” as soon as he read it and the Inspector General’s report about it.

During his testimony, the acting spy chief said the case that they’re discussing today is “unique and unprecedented” compared to other whistleblower cases he is aware of.

Maguire told lawmakers that his office consulted with the White House counsel after receiving the complaint because calls with foreign leaders usually fall under executive privilege, adding that such privilege was something he did not have the authority to waive. 

Maguire also defended the ODNI’s initial decision not to hand over the whistleblower complaint because it involved someone who did not fall “under” his supervision or within the intelligence community.

He added that the because of this his office went to the OLC for guidance, which advised that he was not legally bound to provide it to the committee.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire would not say if he spoke with President Trump about the whistleblower complaint, noting that his conversations with the President are privileged.

Democratic Rep. Jim Himes asked Maguire about his conversations with Trump. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

Himes:Did you ever speak to the President about this complaint? 

Maguire: “My conversations with the President, because I am the Director of National Intelligence, are privileged, and it would be inappropriate for me because it would destroy my relationship with the President in intelligence matters to divulge any of my conversations with the President of the united States.”

Himes: “But, just so we can be clear for the record, you are not denying that you spoke to the President about this complaint?” 

Maguire: “What I am saying, congressman, is that I will not divulge privileged conversations that I have as the Director of National Intelligence with the President.”

Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner said the conversation between President Trump and the Ukrainian leader is “not OK.”

“I think it’s disappointing to the American public,” Turner added.

However, Turner said it is not what is in the complaint, and criticized Schiff’s account of the transcript.

Maguire said President Trump never asked him to find out the identity of the whistleblower.

Answering a question from Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, Maguire said: “I can say — although I would not normally discuss my conversations with the President, I can tell you emphatically, no.”

He added that no one else in the White House or in the Justice Department asked him to do so.

Maguire just said intelligence officials’ most important job is protecting US elections.

“I think that the greatest challenge that we face is not necessarily, you know, from a strike with Russia or China or Iran or North Korea,” he said. “I think the greatest challenge that we do have is to make sure that we maintain the integrity of our election system.”

Maguire added that “we know there are foreign powers trying to get us to question the validity” of our elections.

“So first and foremost, I think protecting the sanctity of our elections, whether it be national, city, state and local is perhaps the most important job we have with the intelligence community,” he said.

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff pushed back on Maguire’s declaration that the focus of the complaint was “not election security.” 

“You’re not suggesting, are you, that the President is somehow immune from the laws that preclude a US person from seeking foreign help in a US election, are you?” Schiff asked.

“No one, none of us, is above the law,” Maguire said.

In an exchange with Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire said that if a president pressured a foreign government for help winning an election, it would be “unwarranted,” “unwelcome” and “bad for the nation.”

He did not, however, say if it was illegal.

Here’s the full exchange:

Heck: Director, whether it’s this President or any president, do you believe it is OK for the president of the United States to pressure a foreign country into helping him or her win an election?

Maguire: Congressman Heck, I believe that no one is above the law. And we’ve discussed what we think applies to the law. 

Heck: So it is illegal to solicit?

Maguire:No I can’t answer that, again sir—

Heck: I can’t reconcile your two statements. Is it ok for a president to pressure, any president, to pressure a foreign government for help to win an election?

Maguire: It is unwarranted, it is unwelcome, it is bad for the nation, to have outside interference, any foreign power—

Heck: Thank you. And by extension, it would be equally unacceptable to extort that assistance as well?

Maguire: I mean, all I know is that I have the transcripts as you have. I have the whistleblower complaint as you have. And—

Heck: I wasn’t referring to the whistleblower complaint, but if any president were to do this, and I accept your answer. I think it’s beyond unacceptable, director.

Maguire: Yes sir.

Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi just questioned Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on whether he discussed the whistleblower complaint with former DNI Dan Coats or Coats’s former deputy Sue Gordon.

Not only did Maguire deny that he discussed the complaint with either of them, he told Krishnamoorthi he would not have taken the job if he had. Maguire took this job nearly two months ago.

Maguire also said he didn’t think Coats or Gordon were aware of the complaint or that Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson had it. 

 “To the best of my ability, I do not think either Director Coats or our principal deputy Sue Gordon have any sense at all about this whistleblower complaint or that Michael Atkinson had it,” he said.

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy defended Trump in light of the whistleblower complaint, arguing that nothing he has seen rises to the level of impeachment.

He criticized Democrats for opening an impeachment inquiry, saying they’re doing so “without one bit of evidence.” 

When asked about the whistleblower’s allegation that White House officials stored the transcript of the Ukraine call in a more secure location than typical, McCarthy argued that would have been reasonable. 

“Now I could I see why you would want to put it on a more secure server knowing that earlier in his administration a conversation with another leader from Australia was put forward? Or I watched a New York Times anonymous editorial working within the White House wanting to do anything to undercut him? I think in the world of technology today, yeah, people should secure what’s going forward,” he said.

When asked if what the President did is defensible, McCarthy responded, “Yes. What in this case rises to impeachment? This is a president of the United States that had a conversation with a leader in another country.” 

“I think it’s very clear that it’s not” impeachable, McCarthy said. “There is nothing in that transcript that rises to impeachment.”

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee ended around 12:20 p.m. Thursday.

The hearing started just moments after a whistleblower’s complaint against President Trump was released. The complaint alleges that Trump abused his official powers “to solicit interference” from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election, and the White House took steps to cover it up.

Here’s what we learned at the hearing:

  • On the timing of the complaint: Maguire said the whistleblower’s complaint centered around a phone call between President Trump and a foreign leader — a kind of conversation that is “typically subject to executive privilege.” That’s why he didn’t release it earlier.
  • On the whistleblower’s motives: Maguire said he believes both the whistleblower who filed the complaint against President Trump and the inspector general who handled it “acted in good faith.”
  • On the nature of the complaint: The acting spy chief said the case that they’re discussing today is “unique and unprecedented” compared to other whistleblower cases he is aware of.

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