And with Acting DNI’s Maguire’s testimony today, he says he has gone to the WH first to see if he can release the Whistleblower complaint because Maguire believes it may fall under an Executive Privilege heading. But Maguire has stated that he was not told by the WH to not go ahead with the release of the Whistleblower…but was more concerned with the Office of Legal Counsel (Formerly McGahn’s office now Cipollone) with regard to Executive Privilege.
Maguire will not confirm whether he spoke to the President on this issue. (today’s testimony)
The WH lawyers are more in the spotlight…and here’s a review of who they are.
Going to the WH first - This of course is one of the most mind blowing issue - Why would anyone bring a secret whistleblower complaint to the source it is complaining about?
Here’s a quick primer on why each of the four taxpayer-funded attorneys is in the spotlight:
Steven Engel, director of the Office of Legal Counsel:
In late August, the inspector general for the intelligence community gave to the acting director of national intelligence a whistleblower complaint alleging that unnamed White House officials had expressed concern about Trump’s call. The IG said this was credible and urgent and should be turned over to Congress. But then Joseph Maguire, the acting DNI, contacted the Justice Department to ask for guidance. Engel issued a secret memo on Sept. 3 saying that the complaint didn’t need to be turned over to congressional intelligence committee because it was outside of the DNI’s jurisdiction. Instead, he said the allegation would more properly be referred to the Justice Department as a potential criminal matter for further review. (The DOJ published yesterday an unclassified version of Engel’s legal reasoning.)
Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, head of the criminal division:
When the intelligence community IG submitted a criminal referral that said the president possibly violated campaign finance laws, it was Benczkowski who made the call within a matter of weeks that there was not enough evidence to pursue an investigation of Trump. He’s a former Senate GOP staffer who worked at the same law firm as Barr before being appointed to the job. Benczkowski’s confirmation was held up for a stretch two years ago because of his legal work for a Russian bank.
“Senior Justice Department officials defended their handling of the matter, saying that campaign finance laws required them to ‘quantify’ the value of what Trump was seeking for his campaign, and that was impossible to do with the investigations Trump had requested. They said they were examining what was referred, and the rough transcript of the call was the ‘best evidence’ to help determine what to do,” Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report. “The FBI, the officials said, deferred to the Justice Department. … They said career prosecutors agreed with the decision.”
“All relevant components of the Department agreed with his legal conclusion, and the Department has concluded the matter,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.
Attorney General Bill Barr:
Justice Department officials also said that the attorney general was “generally knowledgeable” of discussions about Engel’s decision but he didn’t make the call not to move forward with the investigation.
Kupec, Barr’s spokeswoman, said in a statement: “The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine – on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine – on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.”
She added that U.S. Attorney John Durham, who has been investigating the origins of the FBI’s probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, is “exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” per Devlin, Matt, Carol Leonnig and Shane Harris.
But Democrats said Barr should have recused himself entirely. The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee called on Barr to not be involved with anything related to Ukraine and this episode. Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democratic presidential candidate and formerly California’s attorney general, demanded that Barr testify under oath before Congress as soon as possible about his role.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone:
Cipollone has been engaged in this matter since shortly after the whistleblower action surfaced, we reported last week, helping to identify legal obstacles to the sharing of information that could be politically damaging to Trump.
Three of my colleagues revealed yesterday that Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, threatened to resign over concerns that the White House might attempt to force him to stonewall Congress when he was going to testify about the whistleblower complaint. “He has at times expressed his displeasure to [Cipollone] and others that the White House had put him in the untenable position of denying the material to Congress over a claim that it did not fall within his jurisdiction as leader of the intelligence community,” according to Greg Miller, Shane and Karoun Demirjian. “The current and former officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said Maguire had pushed the White House to make an explicit legal decision on whether it would assert executive privilege over the whistleblower complaint … It was unclear whether Maguire’s threat had forced the White House to acquiesce and allow him to testify without constraint. But officials said Maguire has pursued the opportunity to meet with lawmakers to defend his actions and integrity.”
Maguire denied that he ever threatened to resign, and the White House also disputed the account. After their statements were issued, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said, “We stand by the story.”