WASHINGTON — The acting director of national intelligence will not testify before Congress this week or immediately hand over a whistle-blower complaint to lawmakers, escalating a standoff between Capitol Hill and leaders of the intelligence agencies.
The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, demanded in a cryptic letter on Friday that Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, turn over a whistle-blower complaint made to the inspector general for the intelligence agencies.
Mr. Schiff asked in his letter whether the underlying conduct involved “the president or those around him.” But Mr. Schiff has said he cannot discuss the content of the complaint, and it is difficult to assess because its nature is not publicly known. Other lawmakers said they did not know the complaint’s details.
“The committee’s position is clear — the acting D.N.I. can either provide the complaint as required under the law,” Mr. Schiff said, “or he will be required to come before the committee to tell the public why he is not following the clear letter of the law, including whether the White House or the attorney general are directing him to do so.”
The complaint involves conduct by someone “outside the intelligence community” and does not involve intelligence activity under the supervision of Mr. Maguire, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jason Klitenic, wrote in a letter on Tuesday to Mr. Schiff that was obtained by The New York Times. That stance signals a disagreement between the inspector general and the director of national intelligence over who would best investigate the complaint.
The original complaint was submitted on Aug. 12 by a member of the intelligence community, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Mr. Schiff said the law required that the complaint and the inspector general’s determination be shared with Congress within seven days.
“No director of national intelligence has ever refused to turn over a whistle-blower complaint,” Mr. Schiff said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
Mr. Schiff told CBS that Mr. Maguire had told him he was not providing the complaint “because he is being instructed not to, that this involved a higher authority, someone above” the director of national intelligence, a cabinet position.
But Mr. Klitenic concluded that the complaint did not meet the legal definition of an “urgent concern” that must be turned over to the congressional oversight committee. Only allegations relating to the funding, administration or operation of an intelligence agency meet that requirement, the counsel wrote.
Either the inspector general for the Intelligence Committee or the director of national intelligence could refer the complaint to another department and relevant oversight committee, an intelligence official said. But the inspector general for the intelligence agencies has already begun investigating the complaint and alerted the intelligence committees.
Mr. Maguire’s office has told the committee that the complaint involves “potentially privileged matters,” language that has raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Klitenic wrote that Mr. Maguire would not appear Thursday at a hearing as Mr. Schiff requested, adding that “he is not available on such short notice.”
Still, a senior intelligence official said, Mr. Maguire wants to find a way to work with the committee and try to accommodate Mr. Schiff’s requests while still ensuring the whistle-blower’s identity is protected.
Mr. Schiff said he expected Mr. Maguire to appear Thursday, under subpoena “if necessary.” The inspector general for the intelligence agencies has determined that the complaint is “credible and urgent,” and that is why the committee must move quickly, Mr. Schiff said.
Mr. Maguire had been confirmed by the Senate to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, but was named the acting director of national intelligence after Dan Coats stepped down in August and Trump administration officials forced his deputy, Sue Gordon, to retire.
His acting status has put Mr. Maguire in a difficult position between a White House testing his loyalty and lawmakers demanding answers to their questions.