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National intelligence leader threatened to resign if he couldn’t talk to Congress freely on whistleblower complaint

Trump: It was just a perfect conversation
President Trump defended his phone call with Ukraine’s president at a press conference on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — The acting director of national intelligence threatened to resign over concerns that the White House might attempt to force him to stonewall Congress when he testifies Thursday about an explosive whistleblower complaint about the president, according to current and former US officials familiar with the matter.

The revelation reflects the extraordinary tensions between the White House and the nation’s highest-ranking intelligence official over a matter that has triggered impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

The officials said that Joseph Maguire, who was thrust into the top intelligence post last month, warned the White House that he was not willing to withhold information from Congress, where he is scheduled to testify in open and closed hearings on Thursday.

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The move was in part designed to force the White House to make an explicit legal decision on whether it was going to assert executive privilege over the whistleblower complaint, which centers on a call that Trump made with the leader of Ukraine in late July.

In essence, Maguire was serving notice that he intended to cooperate with lawmakers unless the White House moved forward with a legal case to prevent him from doing so, the officials said.

The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Maguire has been caught in the middle of a fight between Congress and the executive branch over the contents of the whistleblower report since it reached his office late last month.

He has at times expressed his displeasure to White House counsel Pat Cipollone and others that the White House had put him in the untenable position of denying the material to Congress over a claim that it did not fall within his jurisdiction as leader of the intelligence community.

The rough contents of Trump’s call were released by the White House on Wednesday, showing that Trump repeatedly pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue investigations that might yield political dirt against Trump’s adversaries, including former vice president Joe Biden.

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Maguire became the national intelligence acting director last month after the resignations of previous director Daniel Coats and Trump’s refusal to allow the deputy director, Sue Gordon, to step into the senior job.

Since the whistleblower controversy erupted earlier this month, Maguire has been the target of criticism from Democratic lawmakers who accuse him of blocking the complaint from being transmitted to Congress.

It was unclear whether Maguire’s threat had forced the White House to acquiesce and allow him to testify without constraint. But officials said Maguire has pursued the opportunity to meet with lawmakers to defend his actions and integrity.

In his only public statement on the matter, issued Tuesday evening, Maguire said, ‘‘In light of recent reporting on the whistleblower complaint, I want to make clear that I have upheld my responsibility to follow the law every step of the way.’’

‘‘I am committed to protecting whistleblowers and ensuring every complaint is handled appropriately,’’ Maguire added. ‘‘I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and Congress to find a resolution regarding this important matter.’’