The nation’s highest ranking intelligence official is expected to be grilled over the administration’s handling of a still-secret whistleblower’s complaint when he appears before Congress on Thursday as the first witness in the Democrats’ formal impeachment inquiry of President Trump.
Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, initially refused to share the complaint or the report of the independent inspector general, who deemed it credible and urgent, with congressional intelligence committees. Democrats said he was breaking the law by withholding the material.
That put Maguire, a retired Navy admiral who was thrust into the job of intelligence chief last month, in the middle of a bitter fight between Congress and the executive branch, which has rebuffed numerous congressional demands for documents.
The White House backed down on Wednesday when the complaint was handed over to the House and Senate intelligence committees. Lawmakers began to review the material, which apparently focuses on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, the former vice president who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Washington Post reported that Maguire had threatened to resign over concerns that the White House might try to force him to stonewall lawmakers about the complaint. It said he had warned the White House he was not willing to withhold information from Congress.
In a statement, Maguire later denied that he had threatened to quit.
“At no time have I considered resigning my position since assuming this role on Aug. 16, 2019. I have never quit anything in my life, and I am not going to start now. I am committed to leading the Intelligence Community to address the diverse and complex threats facing our nation,” he said.
Maguire led the National Counterterrorism Center before Trump named him acting spy chief last month after Dan Coats, a former senator, abruptly resigned amid a series of policy clashes with Trump over Russia, North Korea and other national security issues.
His testimony Thursday comes a day after the White House released its account of a 30-minute phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, a major focus of the nascent impeachment inquiry.
According to the five-page document, which reflects “the notes and recollections” of situation room officers and National Security Council policy staff, Trump pressed his counterpart to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, and repeatedly said Atty. Gen. William Barr and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, would get in touch.
It said Trump specifically asked for a “favor” after Zelensky asked for U.S. military aid, including Javelin antitank missiles, to help his country fight Russian-backed separatists. Trump then asked for help investigating Biden and an Irvine-based company, CrowdStrike, that assisted prosecutors during the Russia investigation.
An intelligence officer apparently briefed on the phone call, and with access to other material, then filed a complaint with the inspector general in Maguire’s office. The inspector general subsequently sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department for a possible violation of campaign finance laws. Prosecutors found insufficient evidence to proceed, the Justice Department said.
Trump’s attempts to get Ukraine to investigate his political opponents are among the most explosive issues that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) cited on Tuesday when she announced the start of formal impeachment proceedings against a president for only the fourth time in U.S. history.
Maguire is scheduled to appear in a public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee and later in a closed-door session before its Senate counterpart.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), chairman of the House committee, said that the whistleblower, whose name has not been released, had expressed interest in speaking with lawmakers on the panel, perhaps as soon as this week.
Democrats see Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election — and appearing to link it to military sales — as a more clear-cut abuse than the multiple cases of alleged obstruction of justice compiled by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in his inquiry into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential race.
Mueller ultimately did not find a conspiracy, although he reached no conclusion as to whether Trump’s other actions violated the law, citing Justice Department rules that prohibit the indicting of a sitting president. Barr later ruled that no prosecution was warranted in any case.
Trump has intensified his efforts to resurface unfounded claims that Biden used his White House post to improperly advance the business interests of his son Hunter, who served on the board of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas company.
The Obama administration and its European allies pressured the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who had spearheaded an investigation into the owner of Burisma.
No evidence indicates Biden or his son acted improperly. The State Department complained publicly in 2015 about the prosecutor’s offices handling of inquiries into the energy company and urged Ukraine to find a new prosecutor who would more aggressively battle public corruption.