It’s showdown time, and fate has decreed that Act One will be Joseph Maguire’s testimony Thursday before Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee. It was of course scheduled last week before Nancy Pelosi announced her support for impeachment, but after we knew about the whistleblower and the bombshell IG report.
No, Act One wasn’t the release of this “transcript” Wednesday morning. Yes, it’s plenty damning—it has Donald Trump mentioning Joe Biden, but I guess because it’s just once and not eight times, and because there’s no explicit quid pro quo, the Trumpists will try to spin it as exculpatory. Ethically and morally, this release smells like Bill Barr’s pre-interpretation of the Mueller Report. Let’s not fall for that a second time.
But Maguire’s testimony—that will be real. Or, it might be. Most people in Maguire’s position here would be wanting to flee town. But in fact, he’s in a position to do something extremely unusual for Washington. He’s in a position to do the right thing. He’s in a position to live up to the oaths he’s sworn to the Constitution for 30-plus years as a Navy SEAL and a counter-terrorism expert and now the country’s director of national intelligence and tell the truth. He’s in a position to be a hero.
All he has to do is come to the hearing with unredacted, or at least lightly redacted, copies of the IG report and distribute them and then testify fully and honestly as to its contents. Simple.
I know it sounds impossible. I know it sounds crazy. But if you step back and look at it, it’s actually the opposite that is crazy. It’s crazy that a man who has served his country with a record of such integrity for three decades and more should lend his good name and reputation to covering up for a man who’s shredding that same Constitution to which Maguire has sworn loyalty.
[UPDATE: On Wednesday, after this column posted, The Washington Post reported that Maguire threatened to resign his post if he couldn't speak freely to Congress. Sources told the paper that Maguire “warned the White House that he was not willing to withhold information from Congress, where he is scheduled to testify in open and closed hearings on Thursday.”
A bit on Maguire’s background. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and graduated from Manhattan College (hmm—just like Rudy Giuliani on both counts, though Maguire entered the college several years after Rudy graduated). He got a master’s degree in national security affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
He became a SEAL, which is one of the harder things to become in American life—I’ve read they need four or five qualified young men to find one capable of enduring the brutal training course. He was eventually the commanding officer of Navy SEAL Team Two, an amphibious unit, with a mission to conduct clandestine operations in marine environments.
Later, he became a deputy director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) under presidents Bush and Obama. In 2018, under Trump, he became the NCTC’s director. He became the acting DNI a little more than a month ago.
Earlier this week I talked with two contacts in the intel world. Neither knew Maguire personally but both knew of him for some time and said as far as they were aware, he had an honorable reputation. One said good people have vouched for him. Another said all that and added that people with Maguire’s kind of background, in counter-terrorism and in his particular SEAL unit, usually aren’t people who have strong partisan affiliations. This person also said there had never been any rumors about Maguire being any kind of zealot, and often, if a person is a zealot, those rumors start whipping around pretty fast.
One of the people I talked to allowed that there’s a slim possibility that there’s a good reason Maguire won’t talk—namely, if there’s an active Justice Department investigation into this matter. But there’s no evidence that that’s the case, and the involvement here of White House counsel Pat Cippolone, who’s been part of the group advising Maguire not to turn over the report, suggests that what’s going on here is just political. (Maguire himself asked Justice to get involved and give him an opinion, but that’s not the same as an official probe.)
So that’s the background. The state of play right now is that both Pelosi and Schiff, among others, have accused Maguire of violating the whistleblower law, which orders that the DNI “shall” turn over such “urgent” material to Congress. The law does seem pretty clear. Maguire’s position, so far, is that the complaint didn’t relate to activity “within the responsibility and authority of the DNI.”
And there we are. This Navy SEAL wants to go down in history as a hair-splitter and a buck-passer?
It makes no sense. Yes, Trump gave him both of his highest-profile jobs. But as men with Maguire’s history and training know, his loyalty is not to a particular president. His loyalty is to his country, which means its laws and its Constitution. That’s not supposed to be a close call.
And here’s the thing: What price would he pay? He’d have to resign, I guess. And that’s a hard thing. He undoubtedly wants to be the official DNI one day. If you’re an acting, I’m not even sure if your portrait goes up on the wall.
That’s important, to the person involved. But it’s also true that if he did this and left, he’d land more than fine. Yeah, Fox and Republicans would smear him, but that would fade. The vast majority of Washington and the country would venerate his courage. He’d be lionized by the non-right-wing press. He’d get a job of his choosing. He’d speak. He’d write a best-seller. And eventually, his obituary would lead with his act of great courage and sacrifice.
And besides, no job is more important than what Trump is doing to this country. Someone was deeply alarmed by something the president said on a phone call to a foreign leader, asking him to provide oppo research on a possible domestic opponent—an on-its-face impeachable act. The right-wing press is now out there discrediting this person in its usual way, but the fact remains that the national intelligence community inspector general found the complaint credible and sent it to Maguire with the expectation that Maguire would send it to Congress. If this isn’t a crisis, there’s no such thing.
Crises require people of honor to act with honor. We’re in an era of shocking cowardice. Every Republican of our time will go down in history as someone who either threw in the towel and ran away (Jeff Flake, Bob Corker) or handed Donald Trump the match and held the Constitution for him to burn (Lindsey Graham and about 400 others).
Tuesday night, the Trump White House started saying that it will turn over the complaint to Congress, in redacted form. But who can trust anything they get from this White House?
Joseph Maguire, you have a chance to be a hero. In a city and a time starved for one. In a place crawling with lickspittles who don’t even know what principle means anymore, you can remind everyone what principle looks like. The nation needs the reminder.