Hours after the House Intelligence Committee released a whistleblower report alleging that Trump “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” the official who kept that report from Congress until yesterday, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, appeared before the committee to explain himself. The situation, he said, is a “unique and unprecedented” one. To explain why he asked White House lawyers and the Trump Department of Justice for advice on handling a complaint that implicated White House lawyers and attorney general William Barr in potential wrongdoing, Maguire said simply, “I just thought it would be prudent to have another opinion.”
As usual, no Republican was more vociferous in his defense of the administration than California congressman and House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes. Last year, the former committee chair wrote a much-hyped memorandum that attempted to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation—the same one that resulted in convictions of or guilty pleas from the president’s former lawyer, campaign manager, and national security advisor. Since Nunes lost his chairmanship when Democrats took the House in 2018, he has busied himself with suing Twitter for $250 million over @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, a pair of parody accounts that sometimes tweet rude things about Nunes from the perspectives of, respectively, his mom and his cow (Nunes owns a farm in Iowa).
For Nunes, the President of the United States asking a foreign head of state to investigate his personal political rival is far less important than finding out how this information became public in the first place. His opening statement was a jumble of buzzwords ripped from the president’s Twitter account and your average Hannity monologue: “Once again, the Democrats, their media mouthpieces, and a cabal of leakers are ginning up a fake story, with no regard to the monumental damage they’re causing to our public institutions and to trust in government.” he said. “In short, what we have with this storyline is another Steele dossier.” Perhaps to complete the bingo, he also compared the whistleblower scandal to another “Russian collusion hoax.”
Nunes’s fury at “leakers” continued during his allotted time for questioning Maguire. “I want to get into how this all got out in the public,” Nunes said. In an effort to narrow down the list of suspects, he ticked off the various groups who could have known about the report’s existence: intelligence officials, people in the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community’s office, and the whistleblower. But when he asked Maguire if it was his office that spilled the beans to the Washington Post or NBC News, Maguire just laughed. “Ranking Member, I lead the intelligence community. We know how to keep a secret,” he said. “Where they get their information from, I don’t know.”
This answer did not satisfy Nunes, who complained that the Ukraine controversy is not the first of the president’s conversations with foreign heads of state to make the news: There was the time Trump told Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto that New Hampshire is a “drug-infested den,” for example, and the time he got mad at then-Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull over the U.S.’s obligations to take in refugees. “We might as well just have the President of the United States not talk to foreign leaders, or let’s just publish all the transcripts, because that’s what’s happening here,” Nunes huffed, an allusion to the right-wing conspiracy theory that disloyal “Deep State” government officials leak unflattering information to undermine the president’s agenda. “Somebody’s leaking this, and it’s likely coming from the agencies that you oversee,” he told Maguire. He added, chuckling: “I’m quite sure of this: The White House probably didn’t leak this out!”
Maguire, however, was not so sure. He politely reminded Nunes that the report says there were “approximately a dozen” officials listening in on the conversation between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and that officials within the U.S. State Department would have been briefed on the call’s contents, too. “I wouldn’t say ‘the White House,'” he concluded. “But there are individuals within the White House that may or may not. I don’t know.” Maguire’s testimony here would seem to undercut the ability of a Deep State leakers theory to explain away another episode of troubling presidential conduct.
Source : Jay Willis Link