House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff took a pointed shot at spymaster Joseph Maguire Thursday as the panel began grilling the acting Director of National Intelligence about President Trump’s phone call with his Ukranian counterpart.
“You stood silent when an intelligence professional under your care and protection was ridiculed by the president, was accused of potentially betraying his or her country when that whistleblower by their fact of coming forward has shown more dedication to country, more of an understanding of the president’s oath office than the president has ever demonstrated,” the California Democrat said.
But Mr. Maguire pushed back, saying he talked with his staff about the matter but didn’t see the need to comment publicly.
“I did not remain silent,” he said, adding that he issued a statement to his workforce assuring them whistleblowers will be protected.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate to issue a public statement,” he said, which drew scorn from Mr. Schiff.
“It was not only appropriate, but nothing would have given more confidence to the workforce than to hear [publicly from you],” Mr. Schiff said. “I think it would have meant a great deal.”
Later in the hearing, Mr. Maguire said there was too much “erroneous” reporting out there, that he didn’t see a need to respond to every report.
Mr. Maguire’s performance received poor marks from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
“I think what the DNI did was break the law. That was very clear,” she said. “The very idea that the subject of the complaint is who he went to, to find out if it was wrong, I just think it’s wrong, and it’s against the law.”
Mr. Maguire, who was appointed to the position last month, appeared before the committee amid House Democrats ramping up impeachment efforts following the release of a phone call transcript between Mr. Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In the call, Mr. Trump asks his counterpart to launch an investigation into Democratic presidential front-runner Joseph R. Biden and his son, Hunter, who secured lucrative contracts in Ukraine.
An unidentified member of the intelligence community filed a whistleblower complaint last month with intelligence community watchdog Michael Atkinson.
Mr. Atkinson labeled the complaint urgent and turned it over to Mr. Maguire. But Maguire stonewalled Congress after the Department of Justice concluded it didn’t meet the threshold to provide the complaint to Congress.
Speaking Thursday, Mr. Schiff called the intelligence chief’s actions, “bewildering.”
“You have struck me as a good and decent man, which makes your actions over the last month, all the more bewildering,” Mr. Schiff said.
But the ranking member on the committee defended Mr. Maguire, saying the inspector general had found flaws with the whistleblower complaint.
“The complaint relied on hearsay evidence by the whistleblower,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican. “The inspector general did not know the contents of the phone call at issue. The inspector general found the whistleblower displayed arguable political bias against Trump. The Department of Justice investigated the complaint and determined no action was warranted.”
The Justice Department said Wednesday it reviewed Mr. Trump’s phone call for possible campaign finance violations — a federal felony — and concluded there was no crime.
Mr. Nunes also called the impeachment drive “dangerous” and “unhinged,” saying Democrats are out to bamboozle the American public.
“I want to congratulate the Democrats on the rollout of their latest information warfare operations against the president and their extraordinary ability to enlist the mainstream media in their campaign,” he said.
He also issued a stark warning to the intelligence director, warning him Democrats will try to destroy him through his testimony.
“Because what you say,” Mr. Nunes cautioned. “They will use your words against you.”
Mr. Maguire fired back, describing his lengthy service in the U.S. Navy and then as a top intelligence community official.
“In my nearly four decades of public service my integrity has never been questioned until now,” he said. “I have upheld my responsibility to follow the law every step of the way in the matter that is before us today.”
Rep. Mike Turner, Ohio Republican and a member of the intelligence committee, said Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president did cross lines — “This is not OK,” he said — but the lawmaker said the whistleblower who complained about it got much of the substance wrong.
“It is not what’s in the complaint,” Mr. Turner said.
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