Acting spy chief says his office consulted with White House over whistleblower complaint

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Acting spy chief Joseph Maguire acknowledged Thursday that his office consulted with White House counsel after receiving a complaint detailing allegations about President Donald Trump’s communications with Ukraine, because calls with foreign leaders usually fall under executive privilege.

At a public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Maguire added that such privilege was something he did not have the authority to waive and would not say whether he discussed the complaint with Trump.

LIVE UPDATES: Whistleblower’s complaint released

“My conversations with the President, because I’m the Director of National Intelligence, are privileged and it would be inappropriate for me because it would destroy my relationship with the President in intelligence matters to divulge any of my conversations with the President of the United States,” Maguire said responding to a question from Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat.

Initially, Maguire seemed to waver about the chronology of events related to his handling of the complaint but ultimately told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that his office did seek guidance from the White House before raising the issue with the Office of Legal Counsel and Department of Justice, which advised he was not legally bound to provide it to the committee.

“Such calls are typically subject to executive privilege, as a result we consulted with the White House counsel’s office and were advised that much of the information of the complaint was in fact subject to executive privilege,” Maguire said. “A privilege that I do not have the authority to waive. Because of that we were unable to immediately share the details of the complaint with this committee.”

Maguire’s appearance before the committee comes one day after lawmakers had their first chance to see the classified account that spurred Democrats to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. The account was declassified and released Thursday morning. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has provided a redacted version to Congress that members can bring to an open hearing, a spokesperson said.

Maguire also said he was told by the Department of Justice he could not legally transmit the whistleblower complaint to Congress because it did “not meet the statutory requirement of ‘urgent concern,'” and insisted that decision was “binding.”

“After reviewing the complaint, and the inspector general’s transmittal letter, the office of legal counsel determined that the complaint’s allegations do not meet the statutory requirement definition (of) legal, urgent concern, and found that I was not legally required to transmit the material to our oversight committee,” he added.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, started the hearing by accusing Trump of betraying his oath of office and compromising US national security for Trump’s “personal, political benefit.”

Schiff also grilled Maguire over whether he believed the whistleblower did the right thing.

“I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way,” the acting DNI responded.

The anticipation ahead of Maguire’s testimony was amplified by Wednesday’s delivery of the complaint to Congress and the White House’s decision to release a transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with the leader of Ukraine that shows the President repeatedly pressed his counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

The conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is included in the whistleblower complaint, a source familiar with the situation said last week, a revelation that only raised more questions in the ongoing controversy.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the President had betrayed his oath of office and announced she is opening a formal impeachment inquiry, a move that has raised the stakes of this week’s events.

After reviewing the complaint on Wednesday, California Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell said the whistleblower “invokes other witnesses to the disturbing conduct” in the complaint, and lays out “a lot of other documents.”

Swalwell, a member of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence, is blocking lawmakers from seeing the full report.

Last week, Maguire refused to comply with a deadline to hand over a whistleblower complaint to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that had been deemed by the intelligence community inspector general to be “credible and urgent.”

At the time, he also refused to appear before the committee but eventually agreed to testify at a later date.

Throughout the entire process, Maguire has maintained that he followed the law despite claims to the contrary by Democrats that he infringed on their right to review the allegations.

He is also scheduled to brief members of the Senate panel behind closed doors.

This story has been updated and will continue to update with developments Thursday.

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