Impeachment

Intel Chief Tasks Congress With Investigating Trump's Dealings with Ukraine

Lawmakers can’t outsource presidential oversight responsibilities to the executive branch.

|

The acting chief of America's intelligence arm sat before a Congressional committee hearing Thursday morning to repeatedly remind Democratic members of the House that it is their responsibility to determine whether President Trump's behavior with Ukraine's president crossed an ethical or legal line.

Joseph Maguire, who became acting director of national intelligence in August after Dan Coats stepped down, sat today for more than three hours before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Part of the committee's purpose was to question Maguire about the complicated bureaucratic guidelines and statutory regulations that delayed his office in passing along a whistleblower's complaint that Trump was pressing Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in an effort to benefit Trump's re-election efforts.

But as the committee hearing wore on, it also became abundantly clear that some of the Democrats on the committee, particularly Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D–Calif.), wanted to get Maguire on the record saying that what Trump had done was criminal and that he must be investigated. In response, Maguire reminded the committee several times that that is not his role. His role in the investigation ended after he determined that the whistleblower's complaint seemed credible and passed it along to the Justice Department to investigate any possible crimes. (The Justice Department has declined to pursue the matter further thus far.)

Maguire made it clear that it's not his role or that of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to recommend criminal charges or investigate the president. He grew visibly frustrated toward the end of the hearing, as Schiff went over several of the complaints lodged by the whistleblower and repeatedly asked Maguire if he thought that Trump's behavior justified investigation.

"You have all of the information," Maguire eventually told the committee. "I believe it's a matter to be determined by you, the chair, and this committee."

Good chunks of the hearing were devoted to complaints by Democrats about the delay in the committee getting the contents of the complaint. By law, when a whistleblower complaint from within or about U.S. national intelligence agencies is determined to be an "urgent concern," the complaint is supposed to be passed along within seven days to the appropriate congressional intelligence committees for review. However, the statute also requires that the complaint concern people or organizations under the purview of the DNI, which the president is not. While acknowledging that this case is "unprecedented," Maguire attempted to explain that Trump's authority to invoke executive privilege took precedence.

Given that the complaint and a summary of Trump's phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have been made public, much of the hearing had the feel of members of Congress complaining that their authority and oversight was not being respected because they had to wait. A couple of Democrats, particularly failed presidential candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.), were aggressive toward Maguire, acting as though he should have done more, even though Maguire reminded them all that investigating this potential criminal activity is beyond the duties of his department.

"At this point, only this committee and this Congress is in the position to investigate," Maguire said.

The entire committee hearing was reminiscent of what happened when Congress insisted that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify before them about the contents of his report on Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and the extent to which Trump attempted to obstruct that investigation. Mueller made it abundantly clear that he wanted the report to speak for itself and would not be adding any additional insights beyond those contained in his report. But Democrats in Congress really, really wanted Mueller to say that he believed Trump had obstructed the investigation; Mueller did not take the bait.

Once again, Schiff and some others wanted Maguire to say something that would make impeaching Trump feel less political and more like an act of justice. House members declared that the president is not above the law and asked Maguire whether he thinks the president is above the law. Yet the "law" that Trump answers to in these circumstances is administered by Congress itself. As Maguire accurately noted, it's up to Congress to decide whether to punish Trump. Literally no other individual or institution can do that work for them.

The committee hearing was another painful reminder that Congress has surrendered much of its constitutional authority to the executive branch, and not just in terms of war-making, regulatory implementation.

The Republican questioning on the panel was less confrontational, with Republican committee members focusing on Democrats, like Schiff and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), who accused Maguire of breaking the law. There were some odd suggestions from the likes of Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Calif.) that somebody in the intelligence community might be responsible for leaking to the press—basically, pushing the "Deep State is after Trump" conspiracy. But the whistleblower's complaint makes it clear that he or she had communicated with several White House officials who had direct knowledge of the contents of the call. Considering how many people likely knew about the concerns, it's possible the press leaks came from within Trump's own staff.

Nunes did, however, say something to the Democrats on the committee worth noting and supporting.

"I would just urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, if they would like to impeach the president, they need to go the floor of the House and actually call for a vote," Nunes said. "The Intelligence Committee is not the appropriate place to try articles of impeachment. There is a process in the Constitution I advise you all to follow."

He's not wrong. If Congressional Democrats believe that the president is not "above the law," they have to recognize that Congress is responsible for enforcing that law and act accordingly.

NEXT: Is Impeachment a "Constitutional Duty"?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Why are so many people ignoring that Biden and his son WERE corrupt? How can it be unethical asking a foreign country to investigate corruption before handing over $400M?

    1. And when did it become unethical to investigate corruption of political opponents? Are corruption probes only available to members of the same party?

      What the fuck is going on here? I’m beginning to think TDS is real.

      1. Welcome to the sane side.

      2. First, I agree this is a goat-rope. This complaint should have been thrown out when it was determined that it was being made through second-hand reports in the absence of first-hand corroboration (which I don’t think is what happened here).
        With that said, Devil’s advocate – if POTUS wants to investigate corruption, he/she should use the mechanisms inherent under the authority of the President (e.g. AG/FBI).

        1. With that said, Devil’s advocate – if POTUS wants to investigate corruption, he/she should use the mechanisms inherent under the authority of the President (e.g. AG/FBI).

          The AG/FBI lack the means to investigate corruption in Ukraine. This is properly the Ukrainian government’s job.

    2. Why are we ignoring that Obama and friends did the exact thing that Trump did, except that in that case, Obama reason was dirt dug up by the DNC, while Trump is actually going after a legitimate point of interest?

      The media is corrupt as hell and until that changes they’re going to continue to gaslight people into believing their lies.

      1. “”Why are we ignoring that Obama and friends did the exact thing that Trump did”‘

        I don’t recall Trump submitting his “Ukraine findings” to the FISA court.

        1. I don’t recall Trump creating a Biden Dossier out of nothing in order to have a legal excuse to spy either. Obama had Trump spied on, on garbage pretexts, and now that Trump is trying to retrace steps and understand what happened, that’s apparently illegal.

          1. In all fairness to the unfairness, Trump would have had to hire a firm to do the dirty work. The Clintons know not to do the dirty work themselves.

            “”that’s apparently illegal.””

            Of course it is. He’s not a democrat.

            1. Let me ask a theoretical question, if the laws are only enforced on certain segments of the population, then why should we follow them?

              1. They should be enforced equally.

          2. Neither do I recall Trump having Australian and British officials, as well as FBI agents, infiltrate and attempt to entrap the Biden campaign…

        2. Since Trump didn’t attempt to spy on American citizens, he didn’t have to submit anything to a FISA court.

          All he did was ask Ukraine to enforce its laws. No permission needed.

    3. How can it be unethical asking a foreign country to investigate corruption before handing over $400M?

      If Trump had said “I won’t turn over the money until you clean up your corrupt government” – it would have been bad, but only because Trump would have been imposing conditions on the money that Congress presumably did not, and it’s Congress’ job to do that, not Trump’s.

      BUT, that is NOT what Trump did. He did not demand that the Ukrainian government clean up their act *generally*, he asked for a *specific* investigation into a *specific* alleged instance of corruption, against the Bidens. That is even WORSE, because it gives the impression that he is demanding a specific outcome that would benefit his political fortunes.

      So no it’s not wrong to ask corrupt governments to clean up their acts. It is problematic to do so in a self-dealing manner.

      1. Are your arms tired from hand waiving?

        1. Is your mouth tired from… well, whatever it is you do in Hawley’s barrel?

          1. Biden directed half a billion for one prosecutor. 3 senators specified 4 investigations they wanted to remain open.

            Want to try again?

          2. I’m actually not shocked you’ve finally hit rock bottom. Nardz is giving you good advise in these threads.

      2. So it’s bad because Trump was demanding a biased investigation? One with a certain desired outcome in mind?

        Have you been watching Democrats and the news for three years?

    4. The impeachment inquiry is about Constitutional violations not ethical ones.

      Trump may be on totally solid ground ethically, and his supporters will argue that (as you have). The whole affair could well end up with Trump more popular and the Democrats looking bad.

      Still the law is not ethics and ethics isn’t the law.

  2. pushing the “Deep State is after Trump” conspiracy

    I’m gonna bookmark this one Scott. Maybe we can revisit it in a little bit.

  3. “You have all of the information,” Maguire eventually told the committee. “I believe it’s a matter to be determined by you, the chair, and this committee.”

    As if that’s the goal of the committee.

  4. The Intelligence Committee is not the appropriate place to try articles of impeachment.

    Anywhere there are cameras.

  5. Since Schiff has the smoking gun, why does he need more?

    Call the vote.

  6. Everyone is falling for Trump’s Blibbit Gambit. Classic 4th-dimensional pigeon chess move.

    1. You need to get some sleep you’ve been mailing it in lately.

      Maybe get a place without other guests, if you can afford it.

    2. No one is falling for anything. This is just straight up insanity. This is worse than the Kavanauh “he raped me but I don’t remember when or where” bullshit.

      1. At least they pretended to have a primary witness for kavanaugh.

  7. But the whistleblower’s complaint makes it clear that he or she had communicated with several White House officials who had direct knowledge of the contents of the call. Considering how many people likely knew about the concerns, it’s possible the press leaks came from within Trump’s own staff.

    Officials that he doesn’t name in the complaint and who have not stepped forward to identify themselves. If this is true, why didn’t he say who? It makes no sense for him not to say so. The only reason you would fail to mention the names is because you never talked to anyone and want to avoid a a false official statement charge. As long as I don’t give the names, it is pretty difficult for any prosecutor to prove I didn’t do it. If I say who, then all a prosecutor has to do is talk to that person and if they deny it, I am in some serious legal jeopardy.

    But Schackford takes this to be the gospel truth because no one would ever lie about the President.

    1. Maguire said, or implied, that the IG went and talked to those people before determining that the accusation was credible, so it’s reasonable to think that they are real. I can understand why none of them would come forward and why no one is willing to name them. As soon as they have names in public, they become targets. We’ll likely never know who the whistle blower was either, and that’s a good thing. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

      1. “” can understand why none of them would come forward and why no one is willing to name them. As soon as they have names in public, they become targets. “”

        I think only the whistleblower has a right not to be named. They fact that they didn’t blow the whistle and someone else did makes them fair game. Also alludes to them knowing a law was being broken and did not report it. Assuming a law was being broken.

      2. I don’t buy that. If he talked to those people, why haven’t their names come out? It is not reasonable at all that they don’t want to come forward. If someone in the White House came forward and said this happened, the media and the Democrats would make national heroes out of them. If they are big enough Trump loyalist to resist that temptation, they never would have talked to the IG.

        Mcquire is lying. His story makes no sense.

        1. Maguire said he’s kept himself out of the loop. He doesn’t want to know who the whistle blower is or who they named. I believe him on that. That’s what he’s supposed to do and that is what gives him separation from the politics of it. He’s just reporting what the IG said. If you want more information go talk to the IG yourself.

      3. “Maguire said, or implied, that the IG went and talked to those people before determining that the accusation was credible, so it’s reasonable to think that they are real.”

        “Credible” has been an incredibly bastardized word over the last year or two.

        Remember, Blasey Ford was “credible”

  8. Let’s talk about something more interesting than this blip of an article.

    Which D candidate goes after Biden first, and does it work? Warren had a chance today to step on his neck, and blew it.

    Tulsi has the “are you idiots serious with retarded impeachment shit” turf staked out.

    So who goes after Biden? Harris does it. Total guess on my part. And it works.

    1. I am not sure any of them can go after Biden. If you go after Biden, you admit that Biden is corrupt. If Biden is actually corrupt, then how can you fault Trump for asking the Ukrainian president to look into it?

      Yeah, brain dead hacks like Suderman and Shackford will claim that it doesn’t matter if Trump had a point and the Ukrainians should have been investigating it, but the public sure isn’t going to buy it. Going after Biden kills the case against Trump. This is only compelling if Biden is some innocent guy that Trump tried to get the Ukrainians to destroy. If he is guilty, then Trump was just doing his job as President.

      1. I think one of them decides they want the nom do bad, that ending Biden and seizing the nomination is worth any pass Trump might get. It gets them tough on corruption bona fides because hey they went after someone from their own party and it also preserves the issue to be brought up later against Trump once Biden is out of the picture

        1. Maybe. But if they do that, they are going to undercut the entire national media.

          This whole thing is nuts. I have never seen anything even close to as crazy and absurd as this.

          1. Several people during the hearing commented on how everything about this is unprecedented. They weren’t kidding.

            1. In the same way the great terror was unprecedented. sure.

              1. Well, unprecedented in public hearings… with this president in office… on a Thursday.

  9. How can anyone on the fucking planet look at the collective clown show that is Schiff, Nunes and Swalwell and think California should even be allowed electoral votes or representation of any kind. Jesus Christ and this is coming from a resident of VA where we have Gov Coonman in the Statehouse at least he’s smart enough to stay the fuck out of sight since that scandal broke.

    1. It is interesting how many of the low IQ Reps that spend so much time displaying their low IQ in front of cameras are from Cali. I mean, who the fuck actually votes for Maxine Waters?

  10. If you’re going to quote schiff you may want to note he completely fabricated the transcript in his opening statement.

    https://pjmedia.com/trending/adam-schiff-fabricates-contents-of-ukraine-call-transcript/

    1. He “paraphrased” it.

      1. The democrats already have a term for it. He misspoke.

      2. He actually claimed parody later. His whole role is a parody.

        1. So now Schiff thinks the investigation is a joke.

    2. It was what Schiff was hearing in his head.

      “Wait, did I say that out loud?!”

  11. So, when Trump was elected, the Democrats knew they were going to have a hard time beating him in 2020, so they decided impeachment was their best change to get him out of office. Even better that talking about extreme measures, like impeachment, ingratiates them to their base. The problem is that they also knew a purely partisan impeachment attempt would be seen as such and would kill them among moderates. So what they really wanted was for someone else, someone ostensibly apolitical to set up the impeachment for them.

    Mueller was their best bet, of course, but there wasn’t enough in the report so they called him in to testify. He refused to take their bait during questioning and left them to deal with Trump on their own.

    Now they see this whistle-blower complaint as another opportunity, but Maguire wasn’t having any of it either, so the they’re still stuck with a purely partisan impeachment effort.

    Pelosi really made a mistake declaring the impeachment proceedings before hearing this testimony. Now she can’t backpedal. She’s stuck doing something that will hurt the Dems more than the GOP. She should have known better.

    I honestly feel bad for Maguire. This complaint hit his desk mere days after he first sat down at it. He said today that he would not have taken the job if he had known about it beforehand. Can’t blame him. No matter what he did he was guaranteed to be hated by some very powerful people. It looks like he did the only thing he could: Follow the letter of the law as precisely as possible and then endure what follows.

    1. Why can’t she backpedal?

  12. “”Pelosi really made a mistake declaring the impeachment proceedings before hearing this testimony. Now she can’t backpedal”‘

    I think Pelosi was too up against the wall with dems calling for impeachment. I think her speakership is gravely threatened and the volume of complaints about Trump, true or false, forced her to give in.

    1. Her speakership has about 16 months left on it

      1. Maybe. But if the Rs take the house and keep the senate, then I would like to see a D as president.

        1. Longing for the last 6 glorious years of the Obama reign?

  13. The Democrats are asking Maguire to lend them his credibility as they know they have none.

  14. Reasons position is now ‘believe the CIA without proof’.

    Seems pretty libertarian, right?

    1. I keep looking for the line in the above article that says we should believe the CIA without proof. Where is it?

      1. There is no proof of a specific crime, and the whistle blower is apparently a CIA operative. So, while it’s not explicitly stating to believe the CIA without proof it starts to look that way when you’ve actually read primary sources on the story and not just Nick’s hot take.

      2. And, furthermore, from the article:

        His role in the investigation ended after he determined that the whistleblower’s complaint seemed credible and passed it along to the Justice Department to investigate any possible crimes. (The Justice Department has declined to pursue the matter further thus far.)

        It’s still unclear on what makes this complaint ‘credible’. I’m growing to loathe that word, since it has no inherent meaning in context. It’s weasel language for weasel people.

        It’s also interesting that the CIA (I.E. ‘intelligence community’) found it credible and the DOJ apparently did not. Both of them literally work for Trump. The fact there is apparent political bias on the part of the whistle blower is also pretty interesting since we’re talking about the Central Intelligence Agency.

        I hesitate to say it before the facts are in, but they’ve been investigating Trump for so many things and found nothing that I hesitate to believe the latest pearl clutching. Especially given that the source is essentially the same as the last source: U.S. intelligence agencies.

        1. Shackford didn’t say he or Reason found the whistleblower’s complaint credible. He wrote that Maguire found it credible. That’s just reporting, not editorializing.

          1. Fair point, although these are all editorial blogs so…


            There were some odd suggestions from the likes of Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Calif.) that somebody in the intelligence community might be responsible for leaking to the press—basically, pushing the “Deep State is after Trump” conspiracy. But the whistleblower’s complaint makes it clear that he or she had communicated with several White House officials who had direct knowledge of the contents of the call.

            We haven’t heard from those White House officials as far as I know as no one apparently knows who they are, but I just saw that the ‘whistleblower’ is indeed a CIA officer.

  15. I like how Sean Davis of the Federalist has noted that Schiff was leaking stuff from the complaint long before he said he ever received it. Weeks earlier.

    If you like conspiracy theories…it reeks of another Fusion GPS operation with the “whistleblower” being coached heavily.

  16. Could John Brennan be the whistle blower? Discuss.

  17. More Lefty nonsense like Mueller.

Please to post comments