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Joseph Maguire's whistleblower hearing showed that if we value our democracy, we only have one option left

Maguire has had an honorable career, but throughout this hearing he feigned ignorance of electoral law in order to avoid criticizing President Trump

Ahmed Baba
New York
Thursday 26 September 2019 19:17 BST
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Joseph Maguire: 'In my nearly 4 decades of public service, my integrity has never been questioned until now'

The historic nature of this week cannot be overstated. We are witnessing a blatant endeavor on the part of the President of the United States to solicit foreign election interference in the 2020 election. This was the focus of the Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire's hearing.

Before we analyze the hearing, let's put recent whirlwind events into context. Earlier this month, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) revealed there was a whistleblower complaint being withheld from Congress. Last week, it was revealed President Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son on their July 25th phone call.

On Monday, reports indicated President Trump personally froze military aid to Ukraine a week before that July 25th phone call. On Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced House Democrats will be pursuing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. On Wednesday, the White House released damning transcript notes of the July phone call confirming Trump's request for an investigation into Biden came in the context of suspended military aid, fueling quid pro quo and extortion allegations. Later in the day, Trump met with Zelensky at the UN and publicly stated his desire to see Ukraine investigate Biden.

Minutes before Thursday's hearing was set to begin, the whistleblower complaint and the Intelligence Community Inspector General's (IGIC) letter to Maguire were released. It implicates President Trump, multiple US officials, and Rudy Giuliani, in the illegal, months-long, pursuit of foreign election interference and a subsequent coverup.

In summary, the whistleblower's August 12th complaint alleges that approximately a dozen White House officials listened to Trump’s July 25th call with Zelensky. After the call, there was an effort to "lock down" the transcript. Officials were allegedly directed by White House lawyers to move the digital transcript of the call to a classified electronic system in an effort to hide it. The complaint alleges that this was "not the first time" a Trump transcript was placed in that system.

The complaint also claimed that Attorney General William Barr may have been involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine. It also highlighted Giuliani's outreaches to Ukraine in May and that his August 2nd meeting with one of Zelensky's advisers in Madrid was a direct follow up to Trump's July 25th request. The complaint also alleges that on May 14th, Trump ordered Vice President Mike Pence not to attend Zelensky's inauguration, and that it was "made clear" Zelensky wouldn't get a meeting until Trump saw how he acted in office and if he "played ball”.

It was in this context that Thursday's hearing began. Chairman Schiff used his opening statement to claim Trump "betrayed his oath of office".

As expected, Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) used his own opening statement to defend President Trump. Nunes called the allegations fake and claimed the complaint wasn't credible. Other Republicans, with the exception of retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), followed this sycophantic route throughout the hearing.

After Acting DNI Maguire's opening statement, Schiff garnered the most important part of the testimony. Maguire said the allegations in the complaint are credible, that the whistleblower was "acting in good faith," and that the whistleblower followed the law. This directly undermined not only Nunes' opening statement but President Trump's efforts to cast aspersions on the whistleblower. Maguire later agreed that the IGIC Michael Atkinson (Trump-appointed) conducted a thorough investigation before deeming the complaint credible.

Many of the questions involved the handling of the complaint. Schiff's line of questioning revealed that after receiving the whistleblower complaint, Maguire went to the White House first and then to the Barr-led Justice Department (DOJ) before deciding not to follow the law and hand it to Congress. President Trump, White House officials, and William Barr are subjects of the complaint. It's also important to note that the DOJ didn't pursue the criminal referral from Atkinson sparked by this complaint. The DOJ claimed there was no "thing of value" sought. The FEC and the Mueller Report see the matter differently.

It was also notable what Maguire wouldn't answer. On three occasions, he refused to say whether he spoke to President Trump about the whistleblower complaint, citing "privilege." But he did “emphatically” answer no when Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked if Trump asked him to identify the whistleblower. He also said he never spoke to Trump about Ukraine.

Maguire said the greatest challenge we face is protecting the sanctity of our elections. He later refused to say whether soliciting foreign interference was illegal. He has had an honorable career, but in this moment as Acting DNI, he opted to feign ignorance of election law in order not to criticize President Trump.

If protecting our elections is our biggest challenge, perhaps impeaching the President undermining our democracy should be our greatest objective

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