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Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, prepared to testify before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday on Capitol Hill.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times
The acting intelligence chief defended the whistle-blower, calling the complaint “totally unprecedented.”
Joseph Maguire, the intelligence chief at the center of the fight over a whistle-blower complaint about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, said the whistle-blower “acted in good faith” and called the case “unique and unprecedented.”
“I believe everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented,” Mr. Maguire emphasized as he testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
In fact, he told Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, that he would not have accepted the post of acting director of national intelligence if he knew of the case.
Facing tough questioning from Republicans and Democrats, he defended both the whistle-blower’s actions and his handling of the case, which he called “urgent and important.”
The whistle-blower’s complaint, released Thursday, accused Mr. Trump of using his office to try to get Ukraine’s government to help him in the 2020 presidential election.
“It was urgent and important,” Mr. Maguire said under questioning from the panel’s chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California.
Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, asked Mr. Maguire the question on many minds related to the whistle-blower complaint: “Director, did you or your office ever speak to the president of the United States about this complaint?”
Mr. Maguire did not really answer, saying he spoke frequently with Mr. Trump.
In another exchange, Mr. Maguire said that the White House never directed him not to share the complaint. His delay, he said, was about sorting through possible claims of executive privilege.
As the hearing wound down, he said the matter was in Congress’s hands. “My responsibility was to get you the whistle-blower letter and get the other information released. I have done my duty,” he told the committee. Whether to investigate further “is on the shoulders of the legislative branch and this committee.”
The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, defended the whistle-blower’s handling of the complaint during a House Intelligence Committee hearing.CreditCreditErin Schaff/The New York Times
Pelosi accused the White House of covering up the Ukraine matter.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday accused the White House of engaging in “a cover-up” of the Ukraine affair, citing a whistle-blower complaint that said Trump administration officials worked to “lock down” all records of a call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president.
“This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.
The use of the word cover-up seemed designed to hark back to the era of Richard Nixon, who resigned rather than face impeachment.
“Every day the sadness grows,” Ms. Pelosi said.
The speaker refused to discuss a timeline for the impeachment inquiry she embraced this week. “The facts will determine the timeline,” she said.
She did say that the consensus in the House Democratic Caucus is that the impeachment inquiry should concentrate on Ukraine.
“The inquiry and the consensus in our caucus is that our focus now is on this allegation and we are seeing the evidence of it,” she said.
Several Democratic presidential candidates also accused Mr. Trump of attempting to hide his call with Ukraine’s leader after the complaint’s release.
At least five candidates — Senators Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the former housing secretary Julián Castro — used similar language to describe the situation, calling it a “cover-up.”
Sept. 26, 2019
The whistle-blower’s complaint accuses Trump of using his office to try to get Ukraine to help in 2020.
Here’s an excerpt from the complaint:
“In the course of my duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
The complaint goes on to say the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani is “a central figure in this effort,” but that Attorney General William P. Barr “appears to be involved as well.”
Mr. Schiff vowed to protect the whistle-blower, an intelligence officer, from reprisal as he released the complaint.
White House officials dismissed the significance of the document. “Nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of thirdhand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings — all of which shows nothing improper,” the press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. She added, “The White House will continue to push back on the hysteria and false narratives being peddled by Democrats and many in the mainstream media.”
Republicans are holding the line, but cracks are showing.
Mr. Trump, returning from New York, resumed his diatribe against Democrats, saying “what these guys are doing, Democrats are doing, to this country is a disgrace.”
“It shouldn’t be allowed. There should be a way of stopping it, maybe legally through the courts,” he continued.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee largely held the line in their defense of Mr. Trump, but Representative Will Hurd, a moderate Texas Republican who has announced he will not run for re-election, wrote on Twitter just before he spoke up in the hearing that the complaint was “concerning” and needs to be fully investigated.
But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, dismissed as “laughable” the Democrats’ assertion that Mr. Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate a political rival should lead to his impeachment.
In a statement to Politico, Mr. McConnell said, “I’ve read the summary of the call. If this is the ‘launching point’ for House Democrats’ impeachment process, they’ve already overplayed their hand. It’s clear there is no quid pro quo that the Democrats were desperately praying for.”
If the House impeaches Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell would have to convene a trial to consider whether to convict the president and remove him from office. In 1999, Mr. McConnell voted to convict Bill Clinton and remove him from office after he was impeached for lying under oath to deny a sexual relationship with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
Republicans appear to be moving on three tracks: discredit the whistle-blower, focus on the reconstructed transcript, not the whistle-blower’s account, and focus on the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, complained that the whistle-blower “has no primary sources,” even though the complaint makes clear that the author spoke to numerous people with direct knowledge of the call between Mr. Trump and the leader of Ukraine. He repeatedly referred to the call reconstruction that the White House released.
“There is nothing in that transcript that rises to impeachment,” he said.
Mr. McCarthy did say he would be open to the whistle-blower testifying, so long as the relationship between Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden’s son, and an energy company that did business in Ukraine was also investigated
Nunes reprised his Trump bulldog role honed during the Mueller investigation.
Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the intelligence panel, has been one of Mr. Trump’s most steadfast allies on Capitol Hill and Thursday morning, he showed he was unmoved by the whistle-blower’s allegations.
Level-toned but brimming with disgust, Mr. Nunes pointedly accused Democrats of launching another “information warfare operation against the president,” just like they fanned the flames of unsubstantiated “Russia hoax.” He ticked through some of the greatest hits of Republican’s unsubstantiated theories about the Democrats’ “mania to overturn the 2016 election.”
They pursued “nude pictures of Trump,” he said. They sought “dirt” on Trump officials from Ukraine. Mr. Biden “bragged that he extorted the Ukrainians into firing a prosecutor who happened to be investigating Biden’s own son.”
Representative Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, defended President Trump against the allegations made by a whistle-blower. Mr. Nunes has been one of the president’s most steadfast allies on Capitol Hill.CreditCreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times
He even worked in a reference to Nellie Ohr, the wife of a Justice Department official, an employee of Fusion GPS, and a favorite target of Republicans, as he argued that the Russia investigation was cooked up by Democrats and the F.B.I. to take down Mr. Trump.
“They don’t want answers,” Mr. Nunes said. “They want a public spectacle.”
Not every Republican on the panel appeared to be comfortable with the president’s actions. Representative Mike Turner, Republican of Ohio, said the whistle-blower complaint was “based on hearsay” and he criticized Mr. Schiff and the Democrats for jumping to conclusions.
But he also leveled a sharp critique at the president, based on the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian leader released on Wednesday: “Concerning that conversation, I want to say to the president, this is not okay. That conversation is not okay.”
Biden is edging toward embracing impeachment.
Mr. Biden has been more restrained in addressing impeachment than many of his Democratic rivals, indicating earlier this week that he would support impeachment if Mr. Trump refused to cooperate with congressional investigations, but keeping the focus primarily on Congress’s pursuit of information in subsequent remarks.
But in an appearance on the late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Wednesday, Mr. Biden appeared to move closer to supporting impeachment, saying that “based on the material that they acknowledged today, it seems to me it’s awful hard to avoid the conclusion that it is an impeachable offense and a violation of constitutional responsibility.”
As news swirled on Wednesday about Mr. Trump’s discussion with Ukraine’s president about Mr. Biden and his son, Mr. Biden spoke at a fund-raiser in California about the challenges of exposing his family to a presidential campaign. “I was worried because I knew what was going to happen if I ran,” he said, but added that his five grandchildren were supportive.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Katie Benner contributed reporting from Washington and Katie Glueck and Matt Stevens from New York.
Sept. 26, 2019
Sept. 26, 2019
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