Acting DNI Testifies Before House Intel Panel

Sep 26, 2019
Originally published on September 26, 2019 10:42 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Right now the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is testifying before the House intelligence committee.

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JOSEPH MAGUIRE: In my nearly four decades of public service, my integrity has never been questioned until now. I'm here today to unequivocally state that, as acting DNI, I will continue the same faithful and nonpartisan support in a matter that adheres to the Constitution and the laws of this great country as long as I serve in this position, for whatever period of time that may be.

KING: Maguire is testifying about a whistleblower complaint that involves President Trump. It alleges the president misused his office for personal gain and that unidentified White House officials tried to cover up that fact. House intelligence committee Chairman Representative Adam Schiff opened today's hearing. Here he is.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Yesterday, we were presented with the most graphic evidence yet that the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office, betrayed his oath to defend our national security and betrayed his oath to defend our Constitution.

KING: Today, the rest of the country got a look at some of the evidence. The committee released the whistleblower complaint and a supplemental letter from the intelligence community's inspector general.

All right. NPR's national security reporter Greg Myre is in the studio with me now. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: OK. So you heard Representative Schiff there. He called this report graphic evidence that the president betrayed his oath of office. What is the evidence?

MYRE: Well, in this complaint, what we're seeing is a body of activity or actions that led up to the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy of Ukraine, that the president - we know that he blocked temporarily military aid to Ukraine. His private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is having extensive contacts on Ukraine. Bill Barr, the attorney general, is mentioned.

So there's a series of actions that culminates, really, with the July 25 phone call. And so Adam Schiff, the Democrat who heads the intelligence committee, is having this back-and-forth with Joseph Maguire about why he did not release the content of this whistleblower complaint to Congress. The law says, by statute, he shall release it. And so they're having this back-and-forth, and we can hear some of this now.

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SCHIFF: Agree that it was urgent.

MAGUIRE: It was urgent and important. But my job, as the director of national intelligence, was to comply with the Whistleblower Protection Act and adhere to the definition of urgent concern, which is a legal term.

MYRE: So Maguire says he was put in this very difficult position. It was his job to pass on the complaint, but he felt that this was really an unprecedented situation where you have a member of the intelligence community filing a complaint against the president, and therefore, he sought some legal advice.

And the legal advice he got when he went to the White House was, no, you don't have to pass it on. So he said he felt he was stuck. He passed on the fact that there was a complaint but not the details of the complaint, which haven't come out until today.

KING: And it's worth noting that Maguire and Schiff have gotten testy with each other at a couple points. Let's talk about the whistleblower complaint. What does it say? Yesterday, we got this rough transcript of the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelenskiy. It told us some things. What does the whistleblower complaint tell us that that transcript did not?

MYRE: Well, it gives us - certainly gives us more context about all the actions that were going around it. And one specific thing it mentions is that after the - after the phone call takes place on July 25 and a transcript is completed, it goes into a sort of super-secret part of the National Security Council files that's reserved for things like covert action. And this seems to be some attempt to prevent this from being available in normal channels or widely circulated. And the whistleblower's claiming that this isn't the first time that it's happened.

So there seems there's some evidence that, according to the whistleblower, that this was a very special case. And, again, this is why Maguire says that he feels this was an unprecedented case because it involved the White House, because it might involve executive privilege. And so we can hear a little bit more about what Maguire is saying up on Capitol Hill.

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MAGUIRE: There were issues within this, a couple of things. One, it did appear that it has executive privilege. If it does have executive privilege, it is the White House that determines that. I cannot determine that as the director of national intelligence.

MYRE: So he's saying, you know, his hands were a little bit tied on this. And he was perfectly happy to transmit the fact that there was a whistleblower complaint. He just couldn't waive executive privilege and pass on the contents.

Now, Adam Schiff has been pushing back, and they've been going back-and-forth on this. And that's where we are at the moment.

KING: And that's where we are at the moment. All right. NPR's Greg Myre covers national security. Greg, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.