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Friday, September 27, 2019

Intel Chief REJECTS Ukraine Cover-Up

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is sworn in before testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is sworn in before testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)



Jeff MordockGabriella Muñoz and Stephen Dinan

An intelligence community whistleblower said Ukrainian officials emerged from a July phone call with President Trump convinced they needed to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and the Democratic Party in order to get on Mr. Trump’s good side, according to documents made public Thursday.
The whistleblower has roiled Washington for more than a week, sparking charges of illegal cover-up at the White House and prompting House Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry that many of them hope will end with the president’s ouster.
In dramatic testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire rebutted allegations of a cover-up, saying he provided a copy of the complaint to Congress as quickly as possible.
But he called the whistleblower’s complaint “unprecedented,” and even without the accusations of a cover-up, it was political dynamite.
“I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals,” the complaint said.
At issue was a July phone call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, where the U.S. leader asked his counterpart to investigate business deals struck by Hunter Biden, a son of one of the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination.
According to a White House transcript, Mr. Trump did ask for an investigation and asked Ukraine to try to figure out what happened to a Democratic National Committee computer server that U.S. prosecutors say was hacked by Russian operatives meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The transcript does not suggest a quid pro quo, but the whistleblower says Ukrainian officials thought it did.
The whistleblower said Ukrainian leaders went into the call believing they had to “play ball” on Mr. Trump’s pet issues, and a readout of the call posted online by Mr. Zelensky’s office says the lack of investigation hindered U.S.-Ukrainian relations.
The whistleblower says U.S. officials met with Ukrainian counterparts the day after the call to give advice on “how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky.”
The whistleblower acknowledged the information wasn’t firsthand but said it was from so many people and the stories matched so well that he felt compelled to pass it on.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the whistleblower was likely a CIA analyst who had been detailed to the White House and was probably a specialist on Ukraine.
The whistleblower filed the complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general six weeks ago. Inspector General Michael K. Atkinson determined that while the complainant had a bias against Mr. Trump, the claims were credible and urgent. Under the law, that meant the complaint should be shared with Congress quickly, the inspector general said.
Mr. Maguire said it wasn’t that simple. He asked for a ruling from the Justice Department, which said that because the call was a diplomatic communication outside the intelligence sphere, it didn’t trigger the congressional notification law.
He said the Ukraine call raised executive privilege questions for the White House, and it wasn’t until the president waived that privilege this week that he was able to share the complaint with Congress.
He forcefully rejected Democratic accusations that he was attempting to shield Mr. Trump.
“It was not stonewalling. I did not receive direction from anybody,” said Mr. Maguire.
He said it was the first time he had been accused of such action in 40 years of military and intelligence service. “I have to comply with the way the law is, not the way some people would like it to be,” he said.
“The White House did not — did not — direct me to withhold information,” he added.
That seemed to undercut Democrats’ cover-up accusation — though they quickly switched to focusing on the whistleblower complaint itself.
“I think there are any number of potential crimes when a president is soliciting for an assistance again in another presidential election,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the whistleblower’s complaint is now the focus of impeachment efforts.
Mr. Trump, returning from New York where he had been meeting with world leaders at the United Nations headquarters, said the Democrats “are going to lose the election and they know it,” and that their impeachment lust was hurting the country more than it was hurting him.
“There should be a way of stopping it, maybe legally through the courts,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “But they’re going to tie up our country.”
He suggested those who leaked were traitors.
“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” he said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
Those comments drew a rebuke from top House Democrats — Mr. Schiff; Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee; and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee — who said Mr. Trump was chilling whistleblowers and obstructing their investigations because he was threatening the very people they want to talk to.
“Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress,” they warned in a joint statement.
Mr. Trump defended his call with the Ukrainian president as “absolutely perfect.”
Even some fellow Republicans weren’t buying that.
“I want to say to the president, ‘This is not OK,” said Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and a member of the intelligence panel.
But he said that as “disappointing” as Mr. Trump’s behavior was, it was not what the whistleblower suggested.
“What’s clear about the complaint is it’s based on political issues,” Mr. Turner said.
Democrats said what they saw from the transcript only boosted their confidence in the whistleblower.
Mr. Schiff said his committee will want to speak to a number of people, including some of the unidentified officials the whistleblower said provided the information, in order to advance the Democrats’ investigation. Some of Mr. Trump’s top aides also could be targets for the inquiry.
“We want to know what role Rudy Giuliani had in all of this. We what to know what role [Attorney General] Bill Barr had in any of this. We want to know what Ukraine understood was expected of them before they even had this July 25 phone call with the president,” Mr. Schiff said.
Off Capitol Hill, it’s not clear what the next steps are. Mr. Maguire said now that the key parts of the complaint are public, the inspector general could pursue the matter.
In the complaint, the whistleblower suggested that Mr. Trump’s pressure on Ukraine may violate U.S. campaign finance laws by trying to enlist a foreign government to aid his reelection.
But the Justice Department this week said it had already investigated the call, based solely on the information in the transcript, and concluded there were no violations of campaign laws because it was not clear that what Mr. Trump was asking for had a quantifiable value.
After the House hearing Thursday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence heard from Mr. Maguire and from the inspector general.
The top Republican and Democrat on that committee emerged to say their investigators have plenty of leads to follow over the next two weeks while Congress in recess.
“Don’t expect us to move at light speed. That will probably happen in the House. We are committed to getting to the bottom of what questions we have,” said committee Chairman Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican.
The Senate committee did its work Thursday behind closed doors.
Mr. Maguire, during his public testimony to the House, appeared to take a swipe at the lower chamber’s more public approach, saying it was a distraction for the government’s national security professionals.
“I’m quite sure that for at least two hours this morning there are not many people in the intelligence community who are doing anything that’s productive besides watching this,” said the director of national intelligence.
• Dave Boyer and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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