House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) opened Thursday’s hearing with a detailed depiction of President Donald Trump’s strong-arming of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, quickly segueing into the ways that acting DNI Joseph Maguire seemed to aid and abet the coverup of this behavior.
“In the limited interactions we have had since you became Director of NCTC, you have struck me as a good and decent man,” Schiff said. “Which makes your actions over the last month all the more bewildering.”
Schiff listed a series of questions about Maguire’s behavior, touching on his reluctance to hand over the whistleblower complaint to Congress, as required by law, and his consultation with the DOJ when Attorney General William Barr was mentioned in the complaint.
“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, when that whistleblower by their very act of coming forward has shown more dedication to country, more of an understanding of the President’s oath of office than the president has ever demonstrated,” Schiff concluded. “We look forward to your explanation.”
Maguire shifted in his seat as Schiff spoke, but remained largely stone-faced.
Schiff opens the Maguire hearing pic.twitter.com/FahrUj6Wnw
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) September 26, 2019
Read Schiff’s full opening statement here:
The presidential oath of office requires the President of the United States to do two things: — faithfully execute his or her office, and protect and defend the Constitution. That oath, of course, cannot be honored if the President does not first defend the country. If our national security is jeopardized, if our country is left undefended, the necessity to faithfully execute the office becomes moot. Where there is no country, there is no office to execute. And so the duty to defend the nation is foundational to the President’s responsibilities.
But what of this second responsibility, to defend the Constitution? What does that really mean? The Founders were not speaking of a piece of parchment. Rather, they were expressing the obligation of the President to defend the institutions of our democracy, to defend our system of checks and balances that the Constitution enshrines, to defend the rule of law —a principle upon which the idea of America was born – that we are a nation of laws, not men. If we do not defend the nation, there is no constitution. But if we do not defend the Constitution, there is no nation worth defending.
Yesterday, we were presented with the most graphic evidence yet that the President of the States has betrayed his oath of office. Betrayed his oath to defend our national security. And betrayed his oath to defend our constitution. For 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.
To understand how he did so, we must first understand just how overwhelmingly dependent Ukraine is on the United States militarily, financially, and diplomatically. And not just on the United States, but on the person of the President. Ukraine was invaded by its neighbor, by our adversary, by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It remains occupied by Russian irregular forces, in that long simmering war. Ukraine desperately needs our help and for years we have given it, and on a bipartisan basis. Until two months ago, that is, when it was held up, inexplicably, by President Trump.
It is in this context, after a brief congratulatory call from President Trump to President Zelensky on April 21, and after the President’s personal emissary, Rudy Giuliani, made it abundantly clear to Ukrainian officials over several months that the President wanted dirt on his political opponent, that the new President of Ukraine would speak to Donald Trump over the phone on July 25. President Zelensky, eager to establish himself at home as a friend of the president of the most powerful nation on earth, had at least two objectives — get a meeting with the President, and get more military help.
So what happens on the call? Zelensky ingratiates himself and tries to enlist the help of the President. He expresses his interest in meeting with the President, and says his country wants to acquire more weapons to defend itself.
And what is the President’s response — well it reads like a classic organized crime shake down. In essence, what the President Trump communicates is this: We’ve been very good to your country. Very good. No other country has done as much as we have. But you know what, I don’t see much reciprocity here. You know what I mean? I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you though. And I’m going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of dirt, on this and on that. I’m going to put you in touch with people, and not just any people. I’m going to put you in touch with the Attorney General of the United States — my Attorney General, Bill Barr — he’s got the whole weight of American law enforcement behind him. And I’m going to put you in touch with Rudy, you’re going to love him. Trust me. You know what I’m asking, so I’m only going to say this a few more times, in a few more ways. And don’t call me again. I’ll call you when you’ve done what I asked.
It would be funny, if it weren’t such a graphic betrayal of the president’s oath of office. But as it does represent a real betrayal – there is nothing the president says here that is in America’s interest – it is instead the most consequential form of tragedy, for it forces us to confront the remedy the founders provided for such a flagrant abuse of office, impeachment.
As you know, Director McGuire, more so than perhaps any other area of government since we deal with classified information, the Intelligence Committee is dependent on whistleblowers to reveal wrongdoing when it occurs, when the agencies do not self report, because outside parties are not allowed to scrutinize your work and guide us. If that system is allowed to break down, as it did here, if whistleblowers come to understand they will not be protected, one of two things happen — serious wrongdoing goes unreported, or whistleblowers take matters into their own hands and divulge classified information to the press in violation of the law and placing our security at risk.
This is why the whistleblower system is so vital to us. And why your handling of this urgent complaint is so deeply troubling.
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, which was shared with the committee for the first time late yesterday. By law, the whistleblower complaint, which brought this gross misconduct to light, should have been presented to this committee weeks ago, and by you, Mr. Director, under the clear letter of the law.
Director McGuire, I was very pleased when you were named acting director. If Sue Gordon was not going to remain, I was grateful that a man of your superb military background was chosen. A Navy SEAL for thirty-six years and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center since December 2018, your credentials are impressive. And in the limited interactions we have had since you became Director of NCTC, you have struck me as a good and decent man. Which makes your actions over the last month, all the more bewildering.
Why you chose not to provide the complaint to this committee as required by law
Why you chose to seek a second opinion on whether “shall” really means “shall” under the statute;
Why you chose to go to a department led by a man, Bill Barr, who himself is implicated in the complaint and believes that he exists to serve the interests of the president, not the office itself, mind you, or the public interest, but the interest of the person of Donald Trump;
Why you chose to allow the subject of the complaint to play a role in deciding whether Congress would ever see the complaint
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, when that whistleblower by their very act of coming forward has shown more dedication to country, more of an understanding of the President’s oath of office than the president has ever demonstrated.
We look forward to your explanation.