The nation’s highest-ranking intelligence official will find himself in the middle of a fierce showdown between Congress and President Donald Trump he never expected to be in when he testifies in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning.
Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence, is expected to face intense scrutiny over his handling of a whistleblower complaint that raised alarm about a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—during which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, who has consistently been a 2020 frontrunner, and his son Hunter’s business dealings in the country.
Maguire, a former Navy vice admiral, took over the job last month, when his predecessor Dan Coats left the post, Coats’ deputy Sue Gordon also stepped down and Trump’s top pick for the job—Rep. John Ratcliffe—saw his nomination implode.
Almost immediately Maguire found himself in the middle of the fight that has triggered impeachment proceedings against the President. He became the face of the controversy over the whistleblower report when his office refused to comply with a deadline to hand over the complaint to Congress, which the intelligence community inspector general had deemed “credible and urgent.”
House Democrats are expected to press Maguire to explain why he withheld the intelligence community whistleblower report from lawmakers for weeks. That same document, which was declassified overnight, could be made public on Thursday.
Maguire, a decorated Navy SEAL with a 36-year military career who until a month ago was serving as the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, is someone who former colleagues describe as “not a political hack.” While he has said he will do his duty in his open and closed meetings on Capitol Hill on Friday, he will be walking a delicate line between the demands of lawmakers and Trump, who is sure to be watching.
When reports emerged Wednesday afternoon that he had threatened to resign if the White House forced him to stonewall Congress, he quickly hit back.
“At no time have I considered resigning my position since assuming this role on Aug. 16, 2019,” he said in a statement barely an hour after the reports were published. “I have never quit anything in my life, and I am not going to start now.”
His speedy, strong response seemed to endear him further to Trump, who mentioned it a few hours later at a press conference in New York.
“I was shocked because I know Joe, and he’s tough. Tough guy. And I was really surprised to hear he was going to quit,” he said. “Before I could even either talk to him or talk to anybody else, he put out a statement,” he said, visibly pleased.
Trump, who famously values loyalty above all else, seemed to take this to mean that the nation’s top intelligence official was going to be on “his side” at Thursday’s hearing.