SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart defended the acting National Intelligence director for his handling of the whistleblower complaint against the president and called his colleagues “nuts” for trying to discredit him during a congressional hearing Thursday.
Stewart, R-Utah, scolded Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee for accusing Joseph Maguire of breaking the law and acting as a “political stooge” to protect President Donald Trump.
“I think that’s nuts,” Stewart said.
Maguire tried to do the right thing in not immediately turning over the complaint to Congress when he saw a discrepancy in the law, he said. The complaint, Stewart said, potentially fell under executive privilege or outside the authority of the National Intelligence director.
“I will say to my colleagues sitting here I think you’re nuts if you think you’re going to convince the American people that your cause is just by attacking this man and by impugning his character,” Stewart said.
Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said no one has accused Maguire of being a political stooge or dishonorable, but when Congress says such information should be turned over, it should be done. There isn’t an exception when it involves the wrongdoing of the president, he said.
“You have accused him of breaking the law, Mr. Chairman,” Stewart interjected.
In his opening statement, Schiff called Maguire’s actions “bewildering” and questioned why he didn’t provide the complaint to Congress as required by law. He also questioned why Maguire allowed the “subject of the complaint” to play a role in deciding whether Congress would see the report.
Maguire said he consulted the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and the White House about the complaint. But when asked if he ever spoke to Trump about it, Maguire said all of his conversations with the president are privileged.
The White House released an edited transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday morning. Later Wednesday, it released the whistleblower complaint to congressional intelligence committees.
Schiff described the complaint as the “most graphic evidence yet” that Trump has violated his oath of office. Trump “sacrificed our national security and the Constitution for his personal political benefit,” he said.
The complaint accuses Trump of using his power “to solicit interference from a foreign country” in the 2020 election. The complaint says the interference includes pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr were central figures in that effort. White House officials, according to the whistleblower, were “deeply disturbed” by the phone call.
In the hearing, Stewart asked Maguire if he tried to protect the president or anyone else.
“I have not. What I have done is endeavored to follow the law,” Maguire said.
Stewart concluded telling Democrats “good luck” convincing people that Maguire is dishonorable and that he has done anything other than what he thinks is right.
“If you think it scores political points with your friends who have wanted to impeach this president form the day he was elected, then keep going down that road,” Stewart said.
After the hearing, Stewart said told Fox News that after reading the whistleblower complaint, he was “much more confident” that Trump would not be impeached over the allegations in the report. He said people who read the complaint would say, “How in the world is this impeachable?”
“I think we’re a long, long way from that threshold,” he said.
Stewart also said he there’s no possible way a criminal indictment could come out of the complaint.
Former CIA ops officer and independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin took issue with Stewart’s stance.
“It deeply troubles me that my congressman, Chris Stewart, continues to downplay and cover for the President’s known corruption at every turn. Soliciting foreign election assistance is illegal. It directly threatens the nation. And it is certainly worse than ‘awkward,’” McMullin tweeted.
Stewart earlier described Trump’s asking Zelenskiy to investigate Biden as “awkward.”
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, said Thursday that he found the whistleblower’s complaint “deeply troubling,” but he has yet to say whether he supports the impeachment inquiry.
“Members of both parties should put partisanship aside and come together to gather all the facts and carefully consider them before deciding how to proceed,” he wrote on Twitter.