Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, on Thursday offered a full-throated defense of the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and castigated Democrats for questioning why Maguire didn’t quickly forward to Congress a whistleblower complaint regarding President Donald Trump.
“I will say to my colleagues sitting here: I think you’re nuts,” Stewart said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing with Maguire. “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 when it’s clear that he felt there’s a discrepancy, a potential deficiency in the law — he was trying to do the right thing.”
Stewart, who has blasted Democrats for launching impeachment proceedings against Trump, played the role of protecting Maguire, who has been accused of bending to the White House’s wishes to initially shelve the whistleblower complaint.
An unclassified version of that complaint, given to Congress on Wednesday and publicly released Thursday, shows an intelligence official finding credible concerns that Trump may have risked national security and urged a foreign power to interfere in U.S. elections by asking the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Maguire's handling of the complaint was “troubling.”
After the inspector general for the intelligence community found the complaint was credible, the law required Maguire to send it to Congress within seven days. He did not and instead sought legal counsel from the Justice Department about whether it was protected by executive privilege.
“By law, the whistleblower complaint, which brought this gross misconduct to light, should have been presented to this committee weeks ago, and by you, Mr. Director, under the clear letter of the law, and yet it wasn’t,” Schiff told Maguire. “This is why the whistleblower system is so vital to us and why your handling of this urgent complaint is also so troubling.”
Schiff also contended Maguire should have stepped up when Trump was ridiculing the unnamed whistleblower, who works in the intelligence community.
Stewart noted Maguire’s military service and said Democrats were grasping at straws to make Maguire look like the fall guy — but that they wouldn’t succeed.
“Anyone watching this hearing," Stewart said, “is surely going to walk away with the clear impression that you are a man of integrity who did what you felt was right regardless of the questions and the innuendo that is cast by some of my colleagues sitting here today.”
Stewart later went on Fox News to say that he wished the president hadn’t made the call to the Ukraine president — and that Stewart wouldn’t have done it himself — but that it’s not criminal conduct and not grounds for impeachment.
“The question that we have, and frankly it’s a question for all American people is, ‘Is this worth removing this man from office?’ Because as I think your previous guest said, there’s no possible way that there’s a criminal indictment coming about this,” Stewart said.
The whistleblower complaint had been forwarded to the Justice Department, headed by Attorney General William Barr, who was named in the complaint, but prosecutors declined to consider criminal charges.
Stewart told Fox News host Neil Cavuto that the Democrats’ motivation is political because there is no criminal conduct and that Biden and former President Barack Obama had done things that were “awkward,” too, but no one tried to impeach them.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who has been critical of Trump’s discussions with Ukraine, said he had yet to read the newly released copy of the whistleblower report, but he remained concerned.
“It was troubling to have the leader of our nation ask another nation to investigate his political opponents,” Romney said in a brief interview.
He didn’t, however, address whether the new details coming out were impeachable offenses.
“I’m not going to give advice to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi or to the House,” Romney said. “They’re pursuing their own course. We’ll see where that takes them.”