— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) May 8, 2017
On Monday, Sally Yates appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify on Russian interference in the U.S. election and how she warned the Trump White House about Michael Flynn’s vulnerability to Russian blackmail. This morning, Trump attacked Yates on Twitter with unfounded accusations that she “knows how classified information got into the newspapers” after speaking to the White House. Some talking heads wondered if Trump aimed to intimidate a witness (and there are rumors that he tried today to shut down her testimony), yet Yates wasn’t rattled.
To open the hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), listed an abbreviated timeline of key Russia-Trump happenings (much like Rep. Adam Schiff did prior to James Comey’s recent testimony on Russia). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) began the grilling of Yates by asking outright whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, and Yates could not answer because she’s barred from revealing classified information. Graham persisted in asking for information that Yates could not reveal, but he eventually landed on a permissible question: “What did you tell the White House about Mr. Flynn?’
Yates revealed that she had spoken three times with White House counsel (two of those times being in-person meetings) beginning in January. She gave these officials the information she knew regarding Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador, but she did not make a recommendation on whether he should be fired (Trump only asked for his resignation weeks later). And Yates confirmed that the DOJ (which did not yet include Jeff Sessions) did in fact “believe” that Flynn was being “compromised” by Russian interests.
Sally Yates: “We believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians” https://t.co/WU58CF42bF
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 8, 2017
Prior to Yates’ testimony, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated that the Russians “exceeded their wildest expectations” while meddling in the U.S. election. Neither he nor Yates knew — when asked by Graham — who leaked the story about Michael Flynn (and his conversations with the Russian ambassador) to the Washington Post.
While Trump and the GOP are still hung up on leaks (and the president did not appreciate late-breaking news that Obama also warned Trump not to hire Flynn), the hearing proceeded as planned.
Yates is a 27-year-veteran of the Justice Department who was appointed (in 2015) as deputy AG by President Obama. Trump fired Yates in late January after she directed the DOJ not to enforce his first Muslim ban. Today, she told the committee that she believed the ban to be “inconsistent with the principles of the Department of Justice.”
— CNN (@CNN) May 8, 2017
On the subject of the Muslim ban, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tried to trip up Yates on constitutional law, but she mopped the floor with him. Witness.
Yates to Cruz on her decision not to defend travel ban: We were talking religious freedom, “not the interpretation of some arcane statute.” pic.twitter.com/UIMC8DXAiD
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 8, 2017