WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s national intelligence chief has given testimony to an angry group of mostly Democratic lawmakers at a congressional hearing over a whistle-blower’s complaint.
The House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee grilled acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on September 26 over the timing and nature of the complaint and on the whistle-blower’s motives and identity.
The committee chairman, Democrat Adam Schiff, described Trump's actions detailed in the report as a "classic organized crime shake down."
A redacted, unclassified version of the report, released to the public moments before Maguire gave testimony, alleges that Trump sought help from Ukraine to interfere in next year’s presidential election. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
"Is there a case for impeachment? Absolutely not!” he said on social media while denouncing the whistle-blower’s report.
Trump's campaign spokeswoman, Kayleigh McEnany, called the report "an even bigger hoax than the Russian delusion," a reference to the two-year investigation into whether Trump's 2016 election campaign colluded with Moscow.
Maguire told the congressional hearing that the whistle-blower "did the right thing" by coming forward and that he showed "more of a dedication of country, more of an understanding of the president's oath of office, than the president himself."
The whistle-blower’s complaint is at the heart of an impeachment probe in the House.
In the complaint, the whistle-blower voiced concern "that the actions described below constitute 'a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or executive order' that 'does not include differences of opinion concerning public policy matters,' consistent with the definition of an 'urgent concern.'"
The complaint centers around a July 25 telephone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, the former vice president and a contestant for the Democratic candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter, who had worked for an energy company in Ukraine.
During the September 26 congressional hearing, Maguire was met with anger for not releasing the report to the House’s Intelligence Committee sooner, as required by law.
Maguire said Trump's conversation with Zelenskiy constituted "executive privilege," which is why he didn't release the report earlier and withheld it for weeks.
The acting intelligence chief said he didn’t know the whistle-blower's identity and that Trump never asked to him to find out.
The whistle-blower is an unnamed intelligence official who did not personally witness Trump's actions, but heard accounts from multiple American officials.
Trump told his staff from the U.S. mission to the United Nations on September 26 that he was keen to know who provided information to the whistle-blower.
"I want to know who's the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that's close to a spy," he was quoted as saying by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
When asked of his opinion of a president who pressured a foreign government for help winning an election, Maguire said it would be "unwarranted" and "bad for the nation" without saying whether it was legal to do so.
The document also purports that White House officials sought to "lock down" records of the July 25 phone call. A five-page memo outlining the call was released on September 25.
The transcript of Trump's conversation with Zelenskiy, the complaint said, was stored not at its usual place and instead placed in a separate computer system meant for classified information.
At her weekly news conference on September 26, Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat and speaker of the House, called the "lock down" effort a "cover up."
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed reports that U.S. diplomats put officials in Kyiv in touch with Trump's personal lawyer after the July 25 phone call.
He told reporters that all interactions were "consistent with the objectives that we have had" to boost relations with Ukraine's new president and help him in his goal to "end corruption in Ukraine."
Maguire is also scheduled to speak to the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors later in the day.