2 Congressional Panels To Hear From Acting Director Of National Intelligence

Sep 26, 2019
Originally published on September 26, 2019 10:42 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Who is the intelligence official now at the center of an impeachment inquiry? Joseph Maguire is director of National Intelligence. He testifies before the House today about the whistleblower complaint that was made to his agency's inspector general. Maguire is the top U.S. intelligence official, overseeing many agencies, but you could be forgiven for not knowing his name because he is new on the job and was hardly in the headlines before this story emerged.

NPR's Jackie Northam reports here on Maguire's background. Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who was Maguire before he became director?

NORTHAM: Maguire spent his entire career in special operations. He was a Navy SEAL, so this world of national secrets is not new to him. His most recent job before he became the director of National Intelligence was the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. And this was an agency that was created after Sept. 11, and it takes intelligence from across the government and tries to identify threats.

So he does have experience in the intelligence world. And from all accounts, you know, Maguire is well-respected. He's only been in the job in an acting capacity for just over a month.

INSKEEP: OK. So if he was running the Counterterrorism Center, he's got experience working with multiple agencies at once. That makes him a natural, I guess, for this director of National Intelligence job. Yet, of all experienced career professionals, how did he end up being the person as the acting director?

NORTHAM: Well, Joseph Maguire stepped into a pretty tough job, Steve. President Trump is critical of the intelligence community, and he disagreed with the previous DNI, Dan Coats, who ended up resigning the White House, then forced out Coats' deputy as well. And so Maguire was appointed as DNI. He was not nominated to the job. Just one other thing about him - he - you know, he's 67 years old. He's a career naval officer. And he retired as a three-star admiral.

INSKEEP: OK. But you said he was appointed to the job in an acting capacity - the fact he's not been nominated, meaning the Senate has not confirmed him, passed on his appointment at all. And he's been there just since Aug. 16, I believe, which means he must have been wrestling with this whistleblower complaint almost the entire time he's been in the job.

NORTHAM: Yeah, that's right. If that timeline all adds up, it's something that he actually walked right into. You know, by the time he received the whistleblower report, the inspector general of the intelligence community had already reviewed it and found it to be both credible and urgent.

You know, Steve, at that point, by law, Maguire was really just supposed to be the messenger here and just pass the report on to Congress. He decided to seek legal counsel on this. And he referred the whistleblower's report to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which in turn determined that it did not fall under Maguire's jurisdiction as DNI and that he did not need to send it on to Congress. And ever since, the whistleblower's controversy blew up. Maguire has come under enormous scrutiny, and many Democrats have been accusing him of covering up the report, protecting the administration.

INSKEEP: Now, we should note he has fiercely denied that, said he's always done his job with integrity. There was also a report that he'd threatened to resign. Did he?

NORTHAM: The Washington Post said - and they were basing this on current and former U.S. officials - that Maguire did threaten to resign if he was constrained in any way from testifying to Congress. And after that story appeared, Maguire quickly put out a very strong statement denying it. But the Post's editor, Marty Baron, says they stand by their story.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks so much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam with some information about Joseph Maguire, the director of national intelligence - acting director of national intelligence who testifies before Congress today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.