- Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before Congress about his handling of the whistleblower complaint alleging Trump acted inappropriately on a call with the President of Ukraine.
- The complaint was released to the public on the same day as Maguire’s testimony.
- In it, the whistleblower wrote: “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.”
- Among other things, the whistleblower complaint details the call between the two leaders, key events and meetings regarding the President and his administration both before and after the call, and alleged efforts by some in the administration to hide records of the call and other calls with foreign leaders.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday following the release of the whistleblower complaint alleging that President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.
Maguire’s testimony follows the public release of a memorandum detailing the call between Trump and Zelensky on Wednesday, which showed Trump asking Zelensky to look into Biden.
Maguire has received backlash over the way he handled the complaint, specifically because he did not turn it over to Congress as mandated under the law.
In his opening remarks, Maguire defended his handling of the complaint, including his decision to hold it as long as he did, noting that the whole situation was unprecedented. He also added that he was following the Whistleblower Act in his decision making.
Maguire said he believed the whistleblower was acting in good faith and added, “I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.” It’s also worth noting that Maquire does not know the identity of the whistleblower, and thus he would not know the whistleblower’s gender.
The testimony also comes as the whistleblower’s complaint was publicly released with minimal redactions earlier on Thursday morning.
Here are some key excerpts from that complaint.
The whistleblower starts out with this passage:
“In the course of my official duties, 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.”
They also note that Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr are involved.
The whistleblower goes on to say that they had received this information “over the past four months” from “more than half a dozen U.S. officials.”
Notably, they say that they were “not a direct witness to most of the events described,” but added, “I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”
This goes back to claims from Trump and others that the whistleblower was not a first-hand witness. Though to be clear, they are saying they did not witness most of the events, not all of them.
“I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order,’” the complaint continues. “I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”
The whistleblower then outlines those actions through a series of different sections.
The 25 July Presidential Phone Call
The first section is titled “The 25 July Presidential phone call” and details the call between Trump and Zelensky.
The whistleblower says it was the first publicly acknowledged call between the leaders since a quick congratulatory call after Zelensky won his election. Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that he had an earlier call with Zelensky, and say he would release the transcript of that call if asked.
“Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests,” the whistleblower wrote regarding the July 25 call. “Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukranian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.”
They then go on to note the actions detailed in the memo for the call, adding, “The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”
Efforts to Restrict Access to Records Related to the Call
The second section is called “Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call.”
“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced — as is customary — by the White House Situation Room,” the whistleblower states. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”
“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored,” they continued, elaborating that instead of storing it where it is normally stored, it was loaded into a separate electronic system “used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”
“One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective,” they note.
“This was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information,” the whistleblower continues later.
Ongoing Concerns & Circumstances Leading Up to the 25 July Presidential Phone Call
The third and fourth sections of the complaint are titled “Ongoing concerns” and “Circumstances leading up to the 25 July Presidential phone call.”
In these sections, the whistleblower said that multiple officials told them that Giuliani had: “Reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers.”
Later, the whistleblower adds that even before the call, starting in mid-May, officials told them “That they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukranian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.”
They also talk about efforts made after the call by two ambassadors who “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”
They go on to say that officials told them that State Department officials, including the same two ambassadors “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security”
Notably, the whistleblower says: “During this same time frame, multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired” by the former Ukraine prosecutor general and Giuliani.
They noted that information was conveyed to them by U.S. officials, but that they do not know “who delivered this message to the Ukranian leadership, or when.”
The whistleblower elaborates on that in an appendix, where they say that U.S. officials told them that Trump instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his trip to attend Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20, and instead sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
“According to these officials, it was also ‘made clear’ to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy until he saw how Zelenskyy ‘chose to act’ in office,” they added.
Here, the whistleblower again notes that they do not know how that was communicated or by whom, and also that they do not know if that action was directly “connected with the broader understanding” that a meeting or call between Trump and Zelensky would “depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball.’”
The last thing the whistleblower includes in the complaint is about aid to Ukraine. They write that on July 18, an official from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) informed other departments and agencies “That the President ‘earlier that month’ had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.”
They say that neither OMB nor the National Security Council staff knew why Trump had made that decision, but add that OMB officials had explicitly said that the order came directly from the president.
“As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukranian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy,” the complaint continues. “But I do not know how or when they learned of it.”
Quid Pro Quo Debate & Pentagon Letter
The last few excerpts about Zelensky being willing to “play ball” and about Trump putting a hold on the military aid will likely shift the debate about whether or not there was implicit pressure for a quid pro quo.
Trump did not outright say “look into Biden and I’ll give you something in return,” but some have argued that Trump was holding back nearly $400 million in military and security aid as leverage over Zelensky.
Trump for his part has said that he decided to hold back the aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
However, on Wednesday evening, NPR obtained a letter from the Pentagon sent to four congressional committees back in May that appears to contradict that claim.
In the letter, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood wrote that he, “certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability.”
As NPR explains, that certification is required under the law for that aid to be released to Ukraine. Basically, the undersecretary said in his letter he had certified that Ukraine had met its corruption reduction goals and that the aid was good to go.
After that, the Defense Department announced it would be sending the aid to Ukraine back in June. The White House then blocked that aid before Trump’s call with Zelensky in July.
That aid was released to Ukraine on Sept. 11 after Congress learned the aid was being withheld and demanded it be given to Ukraine. That demand came right around the time Congress was first informed about the whistleblower complaint.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)
Supreme Court Begins Contentious New Term as Approval Rating Hits Historic Low
The most volatile cases the court will consider involve affirmative action, voting rights, elections, and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
High Court to Hear Numerous Controversial Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday officially kicked off a new term that will be marked by a number of very contentious cases.
The justices, led by a conservative super-majority, will hear many matters that have enormous implications for the American people.
The first case the court will hear this term involves a major environmental dispute that will determine the scope of government authority under the Clean Water Act — a decision that could have a massive impact on U.S. water quality at a time when water crises’ have been heightened by climate change.
The case also comes amid increasing concerns about federal inaction regarding climate change, especially after the Supreme Court significantly limited the government’s power to act in this area at the end of its last term.
Cases Involving Race
Several of the most anticipated decisions also center around race, including a pair of cases that challenge affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
For over four decades, the high court has repeatedly upheld that race can be a factor in college admissions to ensure a more equitable student body. Despite the fact that multiple challenges have been struck down in the past, the court’s conservative super majority could very well undo 40 years of precedent and undermine essential protections.
The high court will decide a legal battle that could significantly damage key voting protections for minorities set forth under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The case in question stems from a lower court opinion that invalidated Alabama’s congressional map for violating a provision in the VRA prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.
Alabama had drawn its map so only one of its seven congressional districts was majority Black, despite the fact that nearly one in every three voting-age residents in the state are Black.
States’ Power Over Elections
Also on the topic of gerrymandering and elections, the justices will hear a case that could have a profound impact on the very nature of American democracy. The matter centers around a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the Republican-drawn congressional map on the grounds that it amounted to an illegal gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution.
The North Carolina GOP appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause gives state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are carried out in their state under a theory called the independent state legislature doctrine.
“That argument, in its most extreme form, would mean that [sic] no state court and no state agency could interfere with the state legislature’s version of election rules, regardless of the rules set down in the state constitution,” NPR explained.
In other words, if the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina Republicans, they would essentially be giving state legislatures unchecked power over how voting maps are designed and elections are administered.
Another notable decision the justices will make could have huge implications for the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights more broadly. That matter involved a web designer in Colorado named Lori Smith who refused to design websites for same-sex couples because she believed it violates her right to religious freedoms.
That belief, however, goes against a Colorado nondiscrimination law that bans businesses that serve the public from denying their services to customers based on sexual orientation or identity.
As a result, Smith argues that the Colorado law violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If the high court rules in her favor, it would undermine protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and likely other states with similar laws.
Experts also say such a ruling could go far beyond that. As Georgetown University’s Kelsi Corkran told NPR, “if Smith is correct that there’s a free speech right to selectively choose her customers based on the messages she wants to endorse,” the Colorado law would also allow white supremacists to deny services to people of color because that “would be a message of endorsement.”
Record-Low Approval Rating
The court’s high-stakes docket also comes at a time when its reputation has been marred by questions of legitimacy.
A new Gallup poll published last week found that the Supreme Court’s approval rating has sunk to a record low. Specifically, less than half of Americans said they have at least a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch — a 20% drop from just two years ago.
Beyond that, a record number of people also now say that the court is too conservative. Experts argue that these numbers are massively consequential, especially as the U.S. heads into yet another highly-contentious court term.
“The Supreme Court is at an important moment,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs told The Hill.
“Trust in the institutions has vastly diminished, certainly among Democrats, and many have a close eye on how they rule on other vital matters. If decisions seem to keep coming from a very pointed political direction, frustration and calls for reform will only mount.”
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNN) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event
The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.
Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.
The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.
The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.
“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.”
The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.
“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.
“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”
The Age Maximum Question
Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.
Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.
While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.
These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.
There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.
What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.
As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.
Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.
However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (NBC News)
Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds
In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.
A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse
More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.
Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.
All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.
“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”
“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.
“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”
Abuses Go Unreported
Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.
Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.
Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.
In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.
In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.
The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”