Rep. Sewell: Trump Administration’s Withholding of Whistleblower Report Will Have “Chilling Effect” on Intelligence Community
September 26, 2019
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) grilled Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire Thursday on the Trump Administration’s handling of the whistleblower report and secured his commitment that he would work to ensure the whistleblower can share his or her testimony directly with the Committee. Sewell said the Administration’s failure to immediately deliver the whistleblower report to Congress as outlined in the law would have a “chilling effect” on future whistleblowers and might encourage others to refrain from delivering critical oversight information to Congress.
“I want to turn to what I fear may be one of the most damaging long-term effects of this whistleblower episode and that is the chilling effect that it will have on others in government who may witness misconduct, but now may be afraid to come forward to report it. Sir, I'm worried that government employees and contractors may see how important this situation has played out and decide it's not worth putting themselves on the line,” Sewell said. “The fact that a whistleblower followed all of the proper procedures to report misconduct and then the department of justice and the White House seems to have weighed in to keep the complaint hidden, is problematic, sir.”
“Congresswoman, I think that's a fair assessment,” Acting Director Maguire said. “I don't disagree with what you've said.”
The Whistleblower Statute is critical to the functioning of the Intelligence Community (IC) and national security. Whistleblower reports are crucial in providing oversight of the IC because of the classified nature of most intelligence work. It is essential intelligence officers and contractors feel confident that they will be protected if they come forward with credible information to serve the best interests of American national security.
Sewell went on to press Director Maguire to confirm that the whistleblower would be able to testify directly to the Committee and secured his commitment that he would work to ensure his or her appearance before the Committee.
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Testimony from Acting DNI Joseph Maguire
September 26, 2019
Rep. Sewell: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Director Maguire, thank you so much for being here.
I want to turn to what I fear may be one of the most damaging long-term effects of this whistleblower episode and that is the chilling effect that it will have on others in government who may witness misconduct, but now may be afraid to come forward to report it. Sir, I'm worried that government employees and contractors may see how important this situation has played out and decide it's not worth putting themselves on the line.
The fact that a whistleblower followed all of the proper procedures to report misconduct and then the Department of Justice and the White House seems to have weighed in to keep the complaint hidden, is problematic, sir. I want to know whether or not you see how problematic this will be and having a chilling effect on members of the IC that you are sworn to represent and ostensibly protect?
DNI Maguire: Congresswoman, I think that's a fair assessment. I don't disagree with what you've said. I have endeavored to transmit to the Intelligence Community my support of the whistleblower and I’m quite sure that for at least two hours this morning, there are not many people in the Intelligence Community who are doing anything that is productive besides watching this.
Rep. Sewell: Right. And, so, my concern I think is a valid one, that, in fact, what has happened with this whistleblower episode will have a chilling effect.
I just also want to ask you, have you given direction to this whistleblower that he can, in fact, or he or she, can, in fact, come before Congress? Director, when the President called whistleblower a political hack and suggested that he or she was potentially disloyal to the country, you remained silent, I’m not sure why, but I think that adds to the chilling effect. The statute seems pretty clear that you shall -- everybody has a role to play. The process seems pretty clear. Part of it also includes you directing the whistleblower of his or her protected rights. Can you confirm that you've directed that whistleblower that he or she can come before Congress?
DNI Maguire: Well, Congresswoman, there are several questions there. One, I do not know the identity of the whistleblower. Two, now that complaint has come forward, we are working with his counsel in order to be able to provide them with security clearance.
Rep. Sewell: Sir, I think it's pretty -- my question is pretty simple. Can you assure this Committee and the American public that the whistleblower is authorized to speak to the Committee with the full protections of the Whistleblower Act? Can you confirm that? That's a yes or no question.
DNI Maguire: I'm working through that with the chair and to the best of my ability I believe the chair was asking to have the whistleblower come forward and I’m working with counsel, with the Committee, to support that.
Rep. Sewell: Can you assure the American public that the end result will be that the whistleblower will be able to come before this Committee and Congress and have the full protections of the whistleblower -- after all, what is the whistleblower statute for if not to provide those full protections against retaliation against litigation?
DNI Maguire: Congresswoman, I am doing everything to endeavor to support that.
Chairman Schiff: Will the gentle woman yield?
Rep. Sewell: Yes.
Chairman Schiff: Do I have your assurance once you work out the security clearances for the whistleblower's counsel, that that whistleblower will be able to relate the full facts within his knowledge, the concerned whistleblower by the president or anyone else, that he or she will not be inhibited what they can tell our Committee, not a minder from the White House or elsewhere, sitting next to them telling them what they can answer or do not answer? Do I have your assurance that the whistleblower will be able to testify fully and freely and enjoy the protections of the law?
DNI Maguire: Yes, congressman.
Chairman Schiff: Thank you. I yield back to the gentlewoman.
Rep. Sewell: So, Director, I also want to understand what you're going to do to try to ensure the trust of the employees and contractors you represent to assure the American people that the whistleblower statute is, in fact, being properly adhered to and that no further efforts would be to obstruct an opportunity for a whistleblower who has watched misconduct to actually get justice?
DNI Maguire: Congresswoman, supporting and leading the men and women of the Intelligence Community are my highest priority. I don't consider they work for me. As a Director of National Intelligence I believe that I --
Rep. Sewell: Sir, I just want to say and go on record as being very clear that this will have a chilling effect and that is not what this statute was intended for. It was intended for transparency, it was intended also to give the whistleblower certain protections. And I think the American people deserve that.