The nation’s top intelligence official is expected to face fierce interrogation from lawmakers on Thursday morning over his decision to withhold a whistleblower’s complaint about a phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s leader that has prompted congressional Democrats to open a formal impeachment inquiry.
Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, is testifying before the committee to discuss the complaint, which was first provided to lawmakers Wednesday afternoon. His appearance on Capitol Hill is the latest flash point in an extraordinary series of events over the past two weeks which have precipitated a constitutional clash between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House.
“I respect you, I respect this committee, and I welcome and take seriously the committee’s oversight role,” Maguire, who served in the Navy for 36 years, said in his opening statement. “I am not partisan, I am not political.”
Shortly before the hearing was set to begin, the House Intelligence Committee released a declassified version of the complaint. The whistleblower wrote the White House tried to “lock down” records of the call at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
“Today, we can say, for the first time, that the substance of this call is a core issue, although by no means the only issue, raised by the whistleblower’s complaint,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said in his opening statement.
On Wednesday, Democrats renewed their calls for an investigation into Mr. Trump’s actions after a memorandum detailed how the president pressured his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and his son, Hunter, during a call in late July.
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Maguire insists intel community didn’t leak complaint
10:05 a.m.: Nunes, questioning Maguire, asked why this case is being handled in the public, and why it’s different.
Maguire said it’s unique because the person in question — the president — is not under the authority of the intelligence community.
Nunes insinuated the intelligence community leaked the allegations made by the whistleblower.
Maguire defended the intelligence community, insisting that his office did not leak anything and intelligence officials know how to keep a secret.
The complaint’s existence was publicly revealed by Schiff in a letter to Maguire on September 13, after the inspector general alerted him about Maguire’s decision to withhold the complaint from Congress. — Kathryn Watson
Maguire says he went to White House first after receiving complaint
10:02 a.m.: In a sometimes tense exchange with Schiff, Maguire acknowledged he went to the White House counsel before the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether the complaint was subject to executive privilege. Maguire repeatedly said it was “prudent” as a member of the executive branch to consult for whether the matter was covered by executive privilege.
Maguire noted the White House ultimately decided not to assert executive privilege, as the summary of the call between Mr. Trump and Zelensky was released.
Maguire was asked by Schiff whether he was aware the White House counsel has taken the “unprecedented position” that executive privilege applies to all conversations involving the president, even conversations that took place before he was president.
“As I said in my opening statement, I believed that everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented,” Maguire replied. — Grace Segers
Maguire says he doesn’t know whistleblower’s identity
9:58 a.m.: Under questioning from Schiff, Maguire said he does not know the identity of the whistleblower.
“I don’t know who the whistleblower is, to be honest with you. I’ve done my best to protect his identity,” Maguire answered, when asked if he believed the whistleblower is a “political hack.”
Maguire said he believes the whistleblower “did the right thing” and “followed the law every step of the way.” — Stefan Becket
Maguire: “I am not partisan. I am not political”
9:40 a.m.: In his opening statement, Maguire emphasized his respect for the Intelligence Committee, as well as his history of public service in the military and as the president of a charity.
“I respect you, I respect this committee, and I welcome and take seriously the committee’s oversight role,” he said. Maguire, who served in the Navy for 36 years, added: “I am not partisan, I am not political.”
Maguire outlined his career as a Navy SEAL, during which he served under eight presidents, as well as his time running the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
“In my nearly four decades of public service, my integrity has never been questioned until now,” Maguire said.
Maguire said that he consulted with the White House counsel’s office because the complaint included details of the president’s conversation with Zelensky, meaning that the president had executive privilege over much of the information in the complaint, “a privilege that I do not have the authority to waive.”
Maguire also said that his office consulted with the Department of Justice, and included the inspector general in those discussions, to determine whether the complaint was an “urgent concern.” The Office of Legal Counsel for DOJ found the complaint did not amount to an urgent concern, because “the president is not a member of the intelligence community.” This meant, Maguire said, he was not legally obligated to pass on the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.
He said he believes the inspector general and whistleblower have “acted with good faith throughout.” — Grace Segers
Democrats to emphasize “White House cover-up”
9:35 a.m.: A Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee tells CBS News that the public can expect questions and talk of a “White House cover-up,” citing portions of the whistleblower complaint where the document describes how White House officials were instructed by more senior officials to remove details of the Ukraine call from a certain server and put it elsewhere.
Specifically, the whistleblower notes that records of the call were loaded into a “separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”
“One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective,” the whistleblower wrote.
In addition to all the other details, the information about requests to move the details of the call are what’s especially upsetting to some Democrats. — Ed O’Keefe and Emily Tillett
White House says whistleblower complaint “changes nothing”
9:33 a.m.: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement reacting to the whistleblower complaint:
“Nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings — all of which shows nothing improper. The president took the extraordinary and transparent steps of releasing the full, unredacted, and declassified transcript of his call with President Zelenskyy, which forms the heart of the complaint, as well as the complaint itself. That is because he has nothing to hide. The White House will continue to push back on the hysteria and false narratives being peddled by Democrats and many in the mainstream media, and President Trump will continue to work hard on behalf of the American people as he always does.”
Nunes compares whistleblower complaint to “Russia hoax”
9:32 a.m.: Ranking Member Devin Nunes, one of the president’s staunchest allies, compared the whistleblower complaint to the Russia investigation, which he called a “hoax.” Nunes claimed Democrats are trying to make a spectacle of the complaint, creating a “media frenzy” instead of holding hearings behind closed doors.
Nunes then criticized Democrats for their interactions with Ukrainian officials, and harkened back to unsubstantiated allegations from the Russia probe.
Nunes suggested Democrats are simply trying to impeach the president to keep him from winning again in 2020. Nunes also called the impeachment probe “dangerous,” and a “gambit” to overturn the 2016 presidential election. — Kathryn Watson
Schiff: Trump has “betrayed his oath of office”
9:20 a.m.: In his opening statement, Schiff said the call between Mr. Trump and Zelensky is “the most graphic evidence yet that the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office.”
“Yesterday, we were presented with a record of a call between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine, in which the president — our president — sacrificed our national security and the constitution for his personal political benefit,” Schiff said.
He characterized Mr. Trump’s conversation with Zelensky as “a classic organized crime shake-down.” Schiff said Mr. Trump essentially asked Zelensky: “I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand?”
Schiff also praised the whistleblower for coming forward, and emphasized the need to ensure protections for whistleblowers.
Schiff also asked Maguire why he chose not to provide the complaint to the Intelligence Committee earlier, and “why 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.” — Grace Segers
White House tried to “lock down” records of call, whistleblower says
9:05 a.m.: The complaint raises concerns about White House efforts to restrict access to the records of the call. According to the complaint, “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call,” and White House officials were “directed” to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system.
The complaint notes that Mr. Trump praised Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko in his call with Zelensky. Lutsenko made a series of allegations in March about the 2016 election, including allegations that two of his political rivals interfered in the election on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, and that U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had “blocked Ukrainian prosecutors from traveling to the United States expressly to prevent them from delivering their ‘evidence’ about the 2016 U.S. election.”
Yovanovitch was recalled from her post at the end of April. Giuliani said in an interview in May that she was removed “because she was part of the efforts against the president.” Mr. Trump insulted Yovanovitch in his call with Zelensky. — Grace Segers
Trump tweets the country “is at stake”
8:51 a.m.: As Maguire prepared to take the witness table and the whistleblower complaint was released, Mr. Trump claimed Democrats are working to destroy the Republican Party.
“THE DEMOCRATS ARE TRYING TO DESTROY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND ALL THAT IT STANDS FOR. STICK TOGETHER, PLAY THEIR GAME, AND FIGHT HARD REPUBLICANS. OUR COUNTRY IS AT STAKE!” he tweeted at 8:41 a.m.
The president, who is still in New York and expected to return midday Thursday, spent part of his morning retweeting people who support him. — Kathryn Watson
House Intel releases whistleblower complaint
8:47 a.m.: The House Intelligence Committee has released an unclassified version of the whistleblower complaint ahead of testimony by the director of national intelligence:
Read more here.
Who is Joseph Maguire?
8:36 a.m.: Acting DNI Joseph Maguire is not a well-known public figure, having been a career military officer who served in the Navy for 36 years before retiring as a Navy SEAL vice admiral in 2010.
Over the course of his career, Maguire served as deputy commander of Navy Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team 6. He also served as director of strategic resources for U.S. Special Operations Command and commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, as well as deputy director for strategic operational planning of the National Counterterrorism Center from 2007 to 2010.
After he retired, he served as a vice president for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. He was also president and chief executive of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides grants for injured special operations personnel and their families, as well as educational financial assistance for the children of these personnel who died in the line of duty.
Maguire was named director of the National Counterterrorism Center, which is a part of the office of the director of national intelligence, by Mr. Trump in 2018.
Maguire was Mr. Trump’s second choice to serve as acting DNI. The president initially considered Congressman John Ratcliffe, who withdrew his name from consideration amid questions about Ratcliffe’s qualifications. — Grace Segers
Complaint raised alarms about White House handling of records of the call
8:06 a.m.: The officer who filed the whistleblower complaint not only raised concerns about the contents of the call between Mr. Trump and Zelensky, but also with how the White House handled records of the call.
CBS News has confirmed that part of the complaint says the transcript of the call with Zelensky was sequestered, as if it were highly classified with extremely restricted access. This raised concerns about the White House’s pattern of hiding information. — Reporting by Olivia Gazis
Trump weighs in before hearing
7:32 a.m.: Just hours before the hearing, President Trump weighed in on the ongoing scrutiny over his contacts with Ukraine and the House’s forward march toward impeachment
“THE GREATEST SCAM IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN POLITICS!” he tweeted. Earlier, the president suggested that Democrats would “crash” the stock market if they proceeded with impeachment hearings.
He also received a shout-out from his eldest daughter Ivanka who thanked him for his efforts as president. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, took the tweet as an opportunity to lament that he’s been “under siege, for no reason” since he entered office.
DNI transmits 2 versions of complaint to Congress
7:11 a.m.: A spokesperson for the office of the director of national intelligence said in a statement to CBS News Thursday:
“Consistent with the accommodations process, last night ODNI formally transmitted a properly classified version of the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees. We also provided Congress a redacted version of the complaint that Members can bring to an open hearing. ODNI is not planning to release the redacted version of the complaint at this time.”
According to sources familiar with contents of the complaint, part of the complaint says the transcript summary was sequestered, as if it were highly classified with extremely restricted access. — Reporting by Olivia Gazis
Timeline of the whistleblower complaint and Ukraine controversy
7:03 p.m.: Here’s a look at the key moments from the Trump-Ukraine call controversy ahead of the hearing:
- July 25 — Mr. Trump has a phone call with Zelensky, during which he urged the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden.
- August 12 — Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community (ICIG), received a complaint from an anonymous employee who did not have firsthand knowledge of the call. The complainant did not hear the call or read the summary released Wednesday, but heard about the episode from unidentified “White House officials.”
- August 26 — Atkinson sends letter to Maguire, the director of national intelligence (DNI), saying the complaint was an “urgent concern.” The inspector general added there was some indication of unspecified political bias on the part of the whistleblower, but determined the complaint was credible nonetheless.
- Last week of August — A conflict-of-interest referral was sent to the Justice Department from the DNI, and around the same time Atkinson had reached out separately. In his letter to the DOJ, Atkinson mentioned a campaign finance statute. The FBI received a separate referral but ultimately deferred to the Justice Department’s criminal division.
- September 9 — Atkinson writes to the House Intelligence Committee, revealing Maguire decided not to forward complaint to Congress.
- September 10 — Schiff, the House Intel chairman, writes private letter to Maguire demanding whistleblower complaint.
- September 12 — Trump administration agrees to release $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, ending months of resistance.
- September 13 — Jason Klitenic, the DNI’s general counsel, responds to Schiff’s letter, telling intelligence committees his office determined that the law did not require disclosure of the whistleblower complaint.
- September 13 — Schiff issues subpoena demanding material from Maguire and his testimony before the committee, revealing whistleblower complaint publicly for first time.
- September 18 — The Washington Post first reports and CBS News confirms the complaint involves President Trump’s communication with a foreign leader. The identity of that foreign leader and the exact nature of that communication was not known, but the Post reported the discussion entailed a “promise.” The New York Times reported one day later that the complaint was “related to a series of actions that goes beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader.”
- September 20 — Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani seemingly confirms the administration, and himself included, asked Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, a mere 30 seconds after denying the fact.
- September 22 — Mr. Trump admits to reporters that he discussed Joe Biden in a call with Zelensky in July. Mr. Trump suggests the next day he would release the transcript of the call.
- September 24 — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry.
- September 25 — The administration releases a summary of the call as Mr. Trump and Zelensky meet in public on the sidelines of the UNGA.
— Clare Hymes contributed reporting
Ukraine’s Zelensky irked by call report release
After trading jokes over their controversial call on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelesnky now appears to be changing his tune about the Trump administration’s move in releasing the full transcript summary of his call with President Trump.
During a media availability in New York, Zelensky told Ukrainian reporters that his comments in his conversation with Mr. Trump shouldn’t have been publicly released, and is now playing down Ukraine’s investigation of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“As for me, I think that such things, such conversations between heads of independent states, they shouldn’t be published. Because sometimes there is geo-politics, some plans. But I am not afraid of that,” he said.
That comes as a shift in tone since his previous remarks during a bilateral meeting with Mr. Trump — their first public meeting since news of their controversial call broke.
“It’s a great pleasure to me to be here, and it’s better to be on TV than by phone, I think,” Zelesnky, a former comedian joked with reporters.
Why did it take so long for Congress to see the complaint?
The unidentified whistleblower filed the complaint with the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, on August 12. Federal law stipulates that the inspector general must investigate any report of an “urgent concern” by an employee of the intelligence community and determine whether it “appears credible” within two weeks. If it is, the inspector general must then report it to the director of national intelligence, whose office is responsible for overseeing the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.
The inspector general investigated the complaint and deemed it credible, forwarding it to the acting director as required, according to a letter from the inspector general released by Schiff.
Once the director receives the report, the law states he or she “shall, within 7 calendar days of such receipt, forward such transmittal to the congressional intelligence committees.”
But Maguire initially refused to share the complaint with Congress. The general counsel for Maguire’s office said last week it had consulted with the Justice Department and determined the complaint did not rise to the level of an “urgent concern” requiring congressional notification. The relevant federal statute defines “urgent concern” as “a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive order, or deficiency” related to an “intelligence activity.”
“The complaint forwarded to the [inspector general] does not meet the definition of ‘urgent concern,'” general counsel Jason Klitenic wrote in a letter to Schiff on Tuesday. “This complaint … concerned conduct by someone outside the Intelligence Community and did not relate to any ‘intelligence activity’ under the DNI’s supervision.”
The committee only became aware of the whistleblower complaint when the inspector general wrote to Schiff on September 9 to inform him of Maguire’s decision not to provide it to Congress.
Maguire eventually relented after the Senate voted unanimously to demand the document, with the House poised to do the same. Lawmakers got their first look at the complaint on Wednesday. — Stefan Becket and Camilo Montoya-Galvez
What did Trump tell the Ukrainian president during their call?
In his more than 30-minute call with Zelensky, Mr. Trump started with congratulatory remarks but soon turned his attention to requests he had for his Ukrainian counterpart, according to the summary released Wednesday.
At one point during the call, according to the White House summary, Zelensky mentioned his interest in buying more anti-tank missiles from the U.S. so his government could counter the Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
“I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot,” Mr. Trump responded.
The president proceeded to urge Zelensky to look into the U.S. cyber security firm CrowdStrike, which is at the center of an uncorroborated allegation that Ukraine played a role in the emails that were stolen from Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign. Mr. Trump also said he wanted to connect Barr with Zelensky and denounced Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation as an “incompetent performance.”
Zelensky said he would open a “new page” in U.S.-Ukrainian relations, telling Mr. Trump that he was committed to meeting with Giuliani.
After reiterating his desire that Zelensky communicate with both Barr and Giuliani, Mr. Trump brought up Biden’s efforts during the Obama administration to push Ukraine to oust its top prosecutor, who was widely accused of turning a blind eye to corruption.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Mr. Trump said. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Zelensky appeared to accept Mr. Trump’s request.
“Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September,” Zelensky said. “He or she will look into the situation.”
After some subsequent back-and-forth, Mr. Trump again told the Ukrainian leader that he would make sure Barr and Giuliani called him. — Camilo Montoya-Galvez