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It was an explosive day on Capitol Hill, as a redacted version of the whistleblower letter was released publicly, and the acting director of national intelligence testified before the House Intelligence Committee about his handling of it. Lisa Desjardins reports on what the whistleblower complaint describes, the role of Congress and how President Trump is responding to the developments.
Coercion and cover-up, that is what the newly released whistle-blower complaint alleges.
The complaint says that President Trump pressured the Ukrainian leader to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son. According to the whistle-blower, White House officials then tried to cover it up.
The complaint was released just moments before acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified today before the Congress.
Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins has more.
At the White House and Capitol, another day centered on another explosive document.
This morning, the House Intelligence Committee released the full text of the original whistle-blower complaint that alleges President Trump pressured a foreign country, Ukraine, to investigate one of the president's main domestic political rivals, Joe Biden, all part of a phone call with the Ukrainian president in July.
The whistle-blower author wrote that they didn't witness the call, but multiple officials recounted the facts to them. The nine-page complaint lodges other serious charges: that senior White House officials intervened to lock down all records of the Ukraine phone call, including moving the transcript from its usual server to one for classified or sensitive information.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
That release happened minutes before a much-awaited hearing about the complaint, a hearing a new sense of gravity from Democrats.
Rep. Adam Schiff:
The president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.:
In the Democrats' mania to overturn the 2016 elections, everything they touch gets hopelessly politicized.
And the acting chief of U.S. intelligence.
I believe that everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented.
Joseph Maguire, who became director of national intelligence just last month, explained why he didn't forward the explosive whistle-blower complaint about the president to Congress, as the law indicates.
He wasn't sure it was an intelligence matter, and, moreover, the White House said the call was privileged.
We consulted with the White House Counsel's Office, and we were advised that much of the information in the complaint was in fact subject to executive privilege, a privilege that I do not have the authority to waive.
I'm just asking about the sequencing here. Did you first go to the White House to determine whether you should provide a complaint to Congress?
No, sir. That wasn't the question. The question was whether or not it has executive privilege, not whether or not I should send it on to Congress.
Maguire said he is not political or partisan, but made it clear he saw this as a difficult situation. He forwarded the complaint, he said, and charge of criminal wrongdoing to the Justice Department.
Democrats questioned that, if the president's own DOJ was a reliable arbiter.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:
If your office of the inspector general is not able to investigate, then who is able to investigate?
Although it didn't come to the committee, the complaint was referred to the Judicial Department for Criminal Investigation. This was not swept under the rug.
Another question: Who knew about the complaint?
Did you discuss this subject, this whistle-blower complaint, with the president?
My conversation, no matter what the subject is, with the president of the United States is privileged conversation between the director of national intelligence and the president.
Maguire did say the White House never ordered him to withhold information.
Republicans fired back at Democrats, accusing them of political warfare.
Rep. Devin Nunes:
And I want to congratulate the Democrats on the rollout of their latest information warfare operation against the president, and their extraordinary ability to once again enlist the mainstream media in their campaign.
John Ratcliffe of Texas insisted President Trump did nothing wrong.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas:
The United States is allowed to solicit help from a foreign government in an ongoing criminal investigation, which is exactly what President Trump did in that conversation.
The president's strongest defender was himself. He spoke to reporters in Washington after returning from the U.N.
President Donald Trump:
It just really a disgrace. It's a terrible thing for our country. They can't do any work. They're frozen, the Democrats. They're going to lose the election. They know it. That's why they're doing it. And it should never be allowed, what's happened to this president.
And now more is happening. Intelligence Committee members told "NewsHour" they will now investigate a possible cover-up of the Ukrainian call, this as, late today, a new recording of the president appeared, audio The L.A. Times obtained of Mr. Trump speaking to U.S. diplomatic staff at the U.N. this morning.
He targeted those in the White House who gave the whistle-blower information.
Because that's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little different than we do now."
Meantime, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that Democrats are now focusing impeachment work on the Ukraine phone call.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:
This is the focus of the moment, because this is the charge. All of the other work that relates to abuse of power, ignoring subpoenas of government, of Congress, abuse, contempt of Congress by him, those things will be considered later. But, right now, we're in the investigate — the inquiring stage.
A few hours later, outside the Capitol, progressive groups added to the pressure on Pelosi, calling for not just impeachment votes, but impeachment votes soon.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.
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