WATCH LIVE: Acting intel boss speaks to House committee; Dems call complaint ‘disturbing’
WASHINGTON – Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is set to speak publicly for the first time about a secret whistleblower complaint involving President Donald Trump as House Democrats who have read the document say it is “deeply disturbing.”
House Democrats who are now mulling Trump’s impeachment are hoping that Maguire will explain why he withheld the intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint from Congress for weeks. Maguire will then go behind closed doors to speak to the Senate intelligence panel.
Lawmakers have been given a redacted, declassified version of the complaint that can be made public. A person familiar with the matter said that version is expected to be released Thursday morning. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss it ahead of the release.
New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of Democratic leadership, said Wednesday evening that he expects the complaint would be made public “sooner rather than later.”
The document was made available to members of House and Senate intelligence committees Wednesday after Maguire had initially determined they couldn’t see it. The complaint is at least in part related to a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump prodded Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden. The White House released a rough transcript of that call Wednesday morning.
House Democrats emerging from a secure room would not divulge details of the classified document but described it as disturbing and urgent. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said it “exposed serious wrongdoing” and “certainly provides information for the committee to follow up with others.”
California Rep. Eric Swalwell told CNN that the whistleblower “laid out a lot of other documents and witnesses who were subjects in this matter.”
The complaint showed the whistleblower learned details of the call from White House officials, according to one person familiar with the complaint who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
Another such person said the lawmakers did not learn the identity of the whistleblower.
A Democratic member of the panel, Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, said the whistleblower “lays out the situation very logically” and “is both acknowledging the things that he or she knows and doesn’t know, which is a hallmark of a credible document.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who on Tuesday fully endorsed an impeachment investigation in light of the Ukraine revelations – and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer also viewed the complaint. Schumer said he is even “more worried” now than he was before reading it and “there are huge numbers of facts crying out for investigation.”
Most Republicans were quiet or defended the president as they left the secure rooms. But at least one Republican said he was concerned by what he had read.
“Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons and say ‘there’s no there there’ when there’s obviously a lot that’s very troubling there,” said Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a GOP member of the Senate intelligence panel who has been an occasional critic of Trump.
He added that “Democrats ought not be using words like ‘impeach’ before they knew anything about the actual substance.”
Trump, whose administration had earlier balked at turning over the complaint, said Wednesday afternoon that “I fully support transparency on the so-called whistleblower information” and that he had communicated that position to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The rough transcript released by the White House on Wednesday showed that Trump prodded Zelenskiy to work with the U.S. attorney general and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate Biden.
Zelenskiy said his comments in the conversation with Trump shouldn’t have been publicly released, and he played down Ukraine’s investigation of Biden, a former vice president who’s now a 2020 presidential candidate.
Lawmakers said they needed to see the complaint, not just the memo about the call, as they investigate the Republican president and whether his actions were inappropriate. Pelosi on Tuesday said that if Trump abused his presidential powers, it would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office.”
The unidentified whistleblower first submitted a complaint to Michael Atkinson, the U.S. government’s intelligence inspector general, in August. Maguire then blocked release of the complaint to Congress, citing issues of presidential privilege and saying the complaint did not deal with an “urgent concern.” Atkinson disagreed but said his hands were tied.
Atkinson, who met privately with House lawmakers last week, will talk behind closed doors to the Senate intelligence panel Thursday.
The House and Senate committees have also invited the whistleblower to testify, but it is uncertain whether the person will appear and whether his or her identity could be adequately protected without Maguire’s blessing. Schiff said Wednesday morning that Maguire still had not provided any instructions on how that could happen.
The whistleblower is prepared to speak privately before the Senate and House intelligence committees but the person’s lawyers want to first ensure that they have the appropriate security clearances so that they can be present for any meeting, according to correspondence reviewed by The Associated Press.
“Legal representation is imperative in these matters,” Andrew Bakaj wrote in a letter Wednesday to Maguire.
A separate letter to Maguire from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff makes a similar request for “appropriate security clearances” for the lawyers.
— Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro, Laurie Kellman and Alan Fram contributed to this report.