Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday on the whistleblower complaint that has become the center of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump launched earlier this week.
The complaint, which was released to the public just minutes before Maguire began his testimony, details concerns about a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about Ukraine opening an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for president, and Biden’s son.
The complaint also raised concerns about “efforts to restrict access to records related to the call.”
The White House’s release of an edited version of the call transcript on Wednesday confirmed that Trump encouraged Zelensky to investigate Biden, and to coordinate with Trump’s personal attorney and the attorney general to do so. Trump denies that he said anything improper on the call.
Thursday’s hearing focused on the handling of the whistleblower complaint, which reached the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in August but was not immediately sent to Congress because of concerns it may have been covered by executive privilege.
Here are the five most notable moments from the roughly three hour long testimony:
Maguire calls the complaint “unprecedented”
“I am aware that this is unprecedented,” Maguire said of a president’s involvement in such a whistleblower complaint. “This has never happened before. This is a unique situation.”
While defending the month-plus that elapsed between the whistleblower complaint being delivered to his office and provided to Congress, Maguire said that Trump’s centrality to the complaint means it did not fit the legal definition of “urgent” because he is not a member of the intelligence community.
Maguire also noted during his testimony that a DNI had never testified to the public about whistleblower complaints.
While he generally declined to comment on the content of the complaint, Maguire did say he trusted the judgement of intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson who initially found it to be both credible and an urgent concern.
GOP member says Trump-Zelensky call was “not OK”
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) became one of the few Republicans to openly criticize Trump’s conduct in the conversation with Zelensky when he on Thursday called it “not OK.”
The majority of Republicans have defended Trump’s conduct, dismissing the impeachment inquiry from House Democrats and arguing that the call did not include an explicit quid pro quo linking a Biden investigation to military assistance.
“There is a lot in the whistleblower complaint that is concerning. We need to fully investigate all of the allegations addressed in the letter, and the first step is to talk to the whistleblower,” he wrote.
Maguire defends the whistleblower
Although the identity of the whistleblower is not known beyond them being a member of the intelligence committee, they have already been the subject of criticism from Trump.
The president has claimed that the whistleblower was a “political hack job.”
Maguire defended the whistleblower’s conduct during Thursday’s testimony.
“I think the whistleblower did the right thing,” Maguire told the committee, adding that they followed the whistleblower statute every step of the way.
Later on he expressed his support of the whistleblower, deeming his complaint “credible” and “important” while stating that he does not know the identity of the individual.
Maguire stressed several times that his job is to protect to members of the intelligence community, and promised that if they choose to testify the whistleblower could do so without restrictions from the White House.
Republicans accuse Democrats of attacking Maguire
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) took time during his questioning to defend Maguire from what he deemed efforts to discredit the acting DNI coming from Democrats.
“I’m not going to treat you like a child and I’m going to give you a chance to answer questions if I ask you something,” Stewart said at the beginning of his time.
“I don’t think they realize how deeply offensive it is to have your honor and your integrity questioned. Some on this committee have done exactly that, they have accused you of breaking the law,” he added, before reading a portion of committee Chairman Adam Schiff‘s (D-Calif.) opening statement.
Other Republicans noted that in the political environment it is easy for someone with decades of experience as a career civil servant to have their reputation dragged through the mud.
Schiff, in response to Republicans criticizing his rhetoric, told Maguire that “no one is suggesting there is a dishonor here.”
Maguire pressed on timing of complaint release
A large portion of the Democratic questioning of Maguire focused on the gap between the complaint being delivered to his office by Atkinson and it reaching the hands of lawmakers.
Maguire gave two defenses of the delay of the release: that Trump not being a member of the intelligence committee means the complaint did not fit the legal definition of “urgent,” a position reached by the Justice Department, and that there were concerns the complaint may have been covered by executive privilege.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) pressed Maguire on why the complaint remained under wraps even after a Sept. 17 subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee.
“The decision was taken to defy a subpoena of this Congress,” he said. “Who made the decision to defy that subpoena of Sept. 17? Somebody said we will not abide by that subpoena.”
“Nobody did,” Maguire responded, saying that the disclosure of the complaint “is a very deliberate process, and finally it came to a head yesterday. … It may have taken longer than you would have liked but you have the information.”
Maguire added that he had asked Schiff for an extra week to deliberate whether he had the authority or obligation to release the complaint.