Graham, Whitehouse Lead Hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 Election
Sally Yates testifies on Trump administration’s handling of Flynn contacts with Russia
Washington, DC – Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, joined Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to lead a Subcommittee hearing on Russian meddling in the 2016 election with former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifying. Yates, addressing Congress for the first time since President Donald Trump fired her, raised serious concerns with the Trump administration’s handling of information on contacts between a top Russian official and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn was ultimately terminated after failing to disclose those contacts to the White House and security officials. Yates revealed that she warned the White House that Flynn’s continued dishonesty about his inappropriate contacts with the Russian government posed a national security risk—a warning that Trump failed to act upon for 18 days, and that administration officials have repeatedly mischaracterized since Flynn’s resignation.
During his opening statement for the hearing, Whitehouse pointed to the Trump White House’s troubling handling of and accountability for Flynn’s firing. “More than 100 days into the Trump administration and nearly two years since [President Trump] declared his candidacy for President, only one person has been held accountable for improper contacts with Russia: Michael Flynn,” said Whitehouse. “At best, the Trump administration has displayed serious errors of judgment. At worst these irregularities may reflect efforts at compromise or corruption by Russian intelligence.”
In response to questions from Whitehouse, Yates, who served as Acting Attorney General in January during the early days of the Trump administration, gave new detail on her pointed warnings to the White House about Flynn’s failure to disclose conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Those conversations, Yates said, could have been used by Russian operatives as leverage against Flynn, compromising his ability to faithfully execute his role as National Security Advisor and putting American security at risk. The White House knew of the Justice Department’s serious concerns about Flynn’s conduct and his exposure to the Russians, Yates revealed, and did nothing while he continued to mislead the American public. Trump himself claimed ignorance when asked about Flynn’s misrepresentations a full two weeks after he was told of them, only requesting Flynn’s resignation after the news media reported on Yates’s conversation with the White House counsel—18 days after it happened. During this time, Flynn sat in on an hour-long call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and a number of other calls with foreign leaders, participated in emergency meetings at Mar-a-Lago in response to a North Korean missile test, and announced the administration’s intent to put Iran “on notice.”
During the hearing, Whitehouse asked Yates about her concerns about Flynn’s conduct. “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” replied Yates. “This was a matter of some urgency.”
Yates also suggested that Flynn’s conduct was a legal issue even without making misrepresentations to the White House and the public. “The underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself,” she said.
Recalling a moment from the Watergate investigation, Whitehouse drew a parallel to a gap in the Trump administration’s response to the Flynn revelations. “Many years ago, an 18-minute gap transfixed the country and got everybody’s attention in another investigation. In this case, we have an 18-day gap between the notification of the White House that a senior official had potentially been compromised and action taken against that senior official’s role,” Whitehouse added.
A PDF copy of Whitehouse’s opening statement is available here.
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