WASHINGTON — Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates said she met twice with President Trump’s White House counsel to warn that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to Russian blackmail, and that he led Vice President Mike Pence to “unknowingly make false statements to the public” about Flynn’s dealings with Russian officials.
But Trump indicated he will keep pushing back on ongoing congressional investigations into potential Russian ties of Trump aides, firing off a series of tweets last night calling the ongoing probes of Russian interference a “taxpayer funded charade” and a “total hoax.”
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who questioned Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper focused on lax White House vetting procedures as Republicans pushed for answers on unmasking and leaking of classified information.
Ranking committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she still has “questions regarding Russia’s relationships and connections with Trump advisers and associates.”
“And there are questions about whether anyone was the target of Russian intelligence, either to be exploited or cultivated,” Feinstein said.
Republicans on the committee pressed Yates and Clapper on whether they leaked confidential information to the press or improperly unmasked the names of Americans. They denied doing so.
“At no time did I ever submit a request for personal or political purposes, or to voyeuristically look at raw intelligence, nor am I aware of any instance of such abuse by anyone else,” Clapper said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, said after the hearing, “I want to know what kind of system we have in place in America that allows us to incidentally collect on American citizens, political figures and who can obtain it and what they can do with it.”
Yates told lawmakers she first called White House Counsel Don McGahn to express concerns about Flynn on Jan. 25, then went to the White House on Jan. 26 and 27 to give him a detailed account — 18 days before Flynn was asked to resign from his post.
“I told them again that there were a number of press accounts of statements that had been made by the vice president and other high-ranking White House officials about General Flynn’s conduct that we knew to be untrue,” Yates said.
“We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and additionally, that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done,” Yates said.
On Twitter, Trump retorted last night: “Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today — she said nothing but old news!”
“Biggest story today between Clapper & Yates is on surveillance. Why doesn’t the media report on this?” Trump tweeted.
NBC News reported that the White House conducted no additional vetting of Flynn past his existing security clearance as a retired general before installing him in the high-ranking post. Press secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday, “Well, you don’t vet on a security clearance, that’s why you get a security clearance.”
The hearing came hours after Obama administration officials said former President Barack Obama also personally warned Trump against hiring Flynn during their Nov. 10 90-minute closed-door meeting at the White House.
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