Joseph Maguire had spent four weeks in a job no one else wanted before facing an unprecedented challenge no one was sure how to deal with. A retired three star general with 36 years of military service, Mr. Maguire had been nominated to be the acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) by President Trump but was unsure if he wanted the job or to wage political battle at an especially tense time between Congress and the President. Despite his reservations, he accepted the nomination, was confirmed by the Senate, and started in August 2019. Less than a month later, a member of the United States Intelligence Community submitted a formal whistleblower complaint to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, who then forwarded it to the acting head of the relevant department, which in this case was the DNI. Mr. Maguire was required to forward the complaint to the relevant intelligence congressional committees within seven days. However, Mr. Maguire withheld the complaint from Congress.
Almost immediately afterwards, Congress subpoenaed Mr. Maguire in order for him to turn over the complaint or testify in front of Congress to explain why he was delaying the complaint. In the process of doing so, Adam Schiff, the Democratic leader of the House Intelligence Committee, accused Mr. Maguire of deliberately withholding information to hurt Congress’ investigation of improper affairs and aiding the President and Executive branch. Mr. Maguire explained that he had not come forward with the complaint at the time because lawyers in the administration and the office of the DNI told him the contents of the letter did not meet the bar to be turned over to Congress. He was trying to act with the best intention for the whistleblower while following the law.
However, public opinion cares little for legalese and a lot for the optics. From the perspective of the Democrats, Mr. Maguire did not aid in the process of exposing President Trump as being negligent or corrupt in his conversations with the Ukranian president. His unwillingness to contribute enthusiastically to the removal of President Trump immediately placed him on the side of President Trump and his supporters. His position in the administration, his hesitance regarding the complaint, and his defense of his actions does not earn Mr. Maguire much sympathy from people who want to remove President Trump at all costs. However, those quick to condemn Mr. Maguire and his actions would be doing a disservice to both the process of impeachment and a longtime public servant.
This issue is partially personal to me , or rather, adjacently personal. Professor Pope, a lecturer in the LBJ School for Public Affairs on matters of intelligence and counterterrorism, is a good friend of “Joe” Maguire. Joe has been a family friend for years and been over for more than a few dinners at the Popes’. In describing Mr. Maguire, Professor Pope corroborates other colleagues in describing him as a long time public servant who could not turn down a call to serve and has the public’s interests at heart. In this age of partisanship, when silence equals complicit behavior and there is little patience for larger coalitions or concessions, it is still important to extend empathy to certain political figures. Rather than claim Mr. Maguire’s actions were apolitical, I think it is more productive to understand the process he undertook and why he did the things he did. I am frequently a believer in the dangers of false equivocation and the importance of critiquing those who pose a danger to vulnerable communities. However, classifying Mr. Maguire as a hinderance to democracy or partisan actor would be unfair, unproductive, and erasing a person who has served for his country before himself.
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