Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) held a news conference on Wednesday, during which he responded to the explosive news that the details of President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president plainly showed him pressing for Ukraine to investigate his most likely general-election opponent.
Schiff generated headlines by pointing out that the call revealed how Trump has betrayed his oath of office, and by arguing that Trump basically engaged in a “mafia-style shakedown” of a foreign country.
But there was one other less colorful point that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee made that deserves a bit more discussion — one that highlights how deep Trump’s betrayal of our country runs, in a bit of a different way than we’ve seen.
In particular, Schiff noted a glaringly absurd aspect of acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire’s decision to withhold the whistleblower complaint from the congressional intelligence committees.
As you know, Maguire’s legal justification for this has been that the subject of the whistleblower complaint — which was deemed “urgent” and “credible” by the intelligence community’s inspector general, triggering a statutory requirement that it be transmitted to Congress — falls outside the parameters of the relevant statute.
Maguire’s claim is that the act at issue did not relate to activity that falls under Maguire’s supervision. It appears the acting DNI made this argument after the Justice Department told him to. (The whistleblower complaint was finally given to Congress on Wednesday evening, but only after the House launched an impeachment inquiry to force the issue.)
But as Schiff noted at his news conference, we have now learned beyond any doubt that Trump tried to leverage the presidency to get a foreign power to interfere in a U.S. election on his behalf.
As Schiff pointed out, you would think that securing our elections against outside interference would relate to activity that falls under the supervision of the DNI.
“The Department of Justice advances the absurd claim that the director of national intelligence has no responsibility over efforts to prevent foreign interference in our election,” Schiff said.
“That would come as news, or at least it should, to the director of national intelligence,” Schiff continued, “who is charged, among other things, with detecting foreign interference in our elections, and with reporting to Congress about foreign interference in our elections.”
There are a couple reasons why this is a highly suggestive point. First, remember that the inspector general pushed back hard on the acting DNI’s legal arguments by flatly stating that the whistleblower’s complaint “relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”
The inspector general very well may have been referencing exactly this: The significant responsibility to the American people in question is to help secure our elections, and the whistleblower complaint is all about a threat to our elections.
In this case, of course, the threat to our elections comes from the president of the United States.
And this brings us to the second reason this is so interesting: Remember that Trump fired the previous DNI — Daniel Coats — who actually did see defending our elections against outside interference as an extraordinarily serious aspect of his mission.
Coats loudly warned of another round of Russian interference, and he even clashed with the White House over his assessments of the damage done by Russia’s electoral sabotage in 2016.
In that context, all of what we’re seeing now looks a lot worse. To recap: Trump fired his last DNI, who took defending our political system against outside attack seriously, and replaced him with another “acting” official — one who received a whistleblower complaint about exactly this topic, and (at the urging of Trump’s Justice Department) worked hard to keep Congress in the dark about it, in potential violation of the law.
All of this highlights in a particularly vivid way the extraordinary depth of betrayal of our country that’s really on display here.