Sally Yates, called in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about Russian interference in American politics, is asked instead why she didn’t support Trump’s Muslim ban as acting Attorney General, the national security threat posed by Secretary Clinton’s email security, and who she thinks might have leaked news of Michael Flynn’s treason to the press.

A few quick things about this afternoon’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

1. There weren’t any real bombshells. Yates pretty much said what people thought that she’d say… that it was brought to her attention that Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had lied about his contact with Russian operatives, and that she’d taken her concerns directly to White House Counsel Don McGahn, urging him to take immediate action against Flynn, who she felt had put himself in a position to be blackmailed by agents of Putin’s government, who also knew that the retired three-star general had been lying to the Vice President and others about their communications. [“To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” Yates told the assembled Senators.] It was interesting, however, to hear the story in her own words, and to see the expression on her face when reminded by the Democratic Senators on the panel that the White House chose to do nothing with this information until a full 18 days later, after the Washington Post went public with the story.

2. Interestingly, earlier this morning, before Yates testified alongside Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, news broke that she hadn’t been the only one to warn the the Trump administration about Flynn. According to reports, President Obama, who fired Flynn from his position as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, warned Trump against hiring him just after the election, when the two men met in the Oval Office to discuss the transition. The question at the heart of all this, which Yates, unfortunately, couldn’t shed any light on, is why it took Trump nearly 100 days after Obama’s warning, and 18 days after Yates’ warning, for Donald Trump to take action.

3. While one would think all of our Senators, regardless of party, would be anxious to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, and any possible collusion on the part of Trump associates, the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee seemed more interested in how the Washington Post came to know that the intelligence community was in possession of evidence that Michael Flynn had been engaged in secret communications with the Russians, and whether or not Yates might have been the one to leak that information… But, then again, maybe it’s not all that surprising, given the content of Trump’s tweets just prior to the hearing. [For what it’s worth, Yates assured the Senators that she was not the source of the Flynn leak.]

4. It wasn’t just that the Republican Senators wanted to know how the press had found out about Flynn, and how the intelligence community had come to “unmask” him in the first place. They also wanted to know where Yates got off standing up to Trump, and stating publicly that his so-called Muslim travel ban was unconstitutional… Here, by way of Parker Molloy, is video of Yates reminding Republican John Cornyn of a conversation that was had during her confirmation hearing in 2014, when Republican Senators told her in no uncertain terms that it was the job of the Attorney General to stand up to the President when he runs afoul of the Constitution.

Yates, we should remember, was fired by Trump on January 30, when she refused to defend his executive order banning the entry of individuals from several predominantly Muslim countries. As Yates reiterated today, the executive order in question was unconstitutional, and she wasn’t alone in pointing that out. As she reminded the Senators, three U.S. courts had also struck down the President’s ban, and the White House had consequently rescinded the executive order.

5. And it wasn’t just Cornyn that had an issue with her handling of the Muslim ban. Ted Cruz also got in on the action, suggesting to Yates that she didn’t understand the President’s legal authority to keep people out of the country who might prose a security threat. Yates, as you might imagine based on the above exchange with Cornyn, was quick to educate the Senator as to what the law actually says.

6. Cruz, for what it’s worth, also went off on an absolutely ridiculous “What about her emails?” tangent, asking Clapper and Yates in somewhat oblique terms about the risk Hillary Clinton may have put us in by sending classified emails from a non-secure server.

7. As I watched this unfold, it became painfully obvious, for the reasons just noted, that we desperately need to lift this investigation out of partisan politics, and put it into the hands of an independent investigator. I mean, I guess it’s kind of amazing that Senate Republicans allowed this investigation to happen at all, but this was absolutely painful to watch… Here we have two people testifying about treason, and a cover-up that could go all the way to the Oval Office, and all the Senators controlling the conversation wanted to discuss was who leaked it to the press, and why Yates didn’t rubber stamp Trump’s unquestionably unconstitutional travel ban. It was an absolute embarrassment.

8. For what it’s worth, Clapper also did an admirable job, first reminding the members of the Judiciary panel that, in the opinion of every U.S. intelligence service, the Russians were conducting covert operations intended to help put Trump in the White House, and then making it clear that everything else they were talking about paled in comparison. Here are a few quotes.

Clapper on the background:

“The Russians used cyber operations against both political parties, including hacking into servers used by the Democratic National Committee and releasing stolen data to WikiLeaks and other media outlets. Russia also collected on certain Republican Party- affiliated targets, but did not release any Republican-related data. The Intelligence Community Assessment concluded first that President Putin directed and influenced campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process. Second, that he did so to demean Secretary Clinton, and third, that he sought to advantage Mr. Trump. These conclusions were reached based on the richness of the information gathered and analyzed and were thoroughly vetted and then approved by the directors of the three agencies and me.”

Clapper on Russia’s success:

“The Russians have to be celebrating the success of what — for what they set out do with rather minimal resource expenditure. And the first objective was to sow discord and dissension, which they certainly did.”

Clapper on priorities:

“I understand how critical leaks are, and unmasking, and all these ancillary issues. But to me, the transcendent issue here is the Russian interference in our election process, and what that means to the erosion of the fundamental fabric of our democracy. And that to me is a huge deal. And they’re going to continue to do it. And why not? It proved successful.”

9. Watching her testify today, I couldn’t help but wonder how well a Warren-Yates reform ticket might fare in 2020, as Americans look to unwind the damage done by the Trump administration. I know conventional wisdom probably says Warren should choose a male running mate from the south, preferably someone with good foreign policy and/or military experience, but maybe it’s time to just do the right thing for a change, put aside the cynicism, and give us a ticket that we can really get excited about.

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5 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Today I learned that Texas has not one but two laughably stupid senators. She ran circles around them. If these are the people Trump has defending him, he really will due in prison.

  2. Demetrius
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I suspect the only reason they are allowing these hearings, and this testimony, *now* is to inoculate themselves against future political damage.

    In much the same way the Bush Administration’s lies that led to the Iraq war were disclosed (and mostly forgotten) before his second re-election campaign … by the time we get to the 2018 mid-term elections, this will all be “old news.”

  3. Eel
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Cruz, having gotten his ass kicked, did not return for the second round of questions.

    http://www.politicususa.com/2017/05/08/butt-kicked-sally-yates-ted-cruz-return-questioning.html

  4. Meta
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Sean Spicer says they didn’t take action when Yates warned them about Flynn because Yates wasn’t a Trump fan.

    From Mother Jones:

    On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the administration’s decision to keep Flynn on as national security adviser for more than two weeks after Yates’ warning by implying that Yates, a Barack Obama appointee, could not be trusted because she was “a strong supporter of Clinton.”

    “One thing that I think is important to note is, let’s look at, again, how this came down,” Spicer said. “Someone who is not exactly a supporter of the president’s agenda, who a couple days after this first conversation took place refused to uphold a lawful order of the president’s…she had come here, given a heads up, told us there were materials, and at the same we did what we should do. Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads up about something and says I want to share some information, doesn’t mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action.”

    Spicer continued, “I think if you flip this scenario and say, what if we had just dismissed someone because a political opponent of the president had made an utterance, you would argue that it was pretty irrational to act in that manner.”

    After being asked multiple times if the White House took any steps to reduce Flynn’s role or access to classified information after receiving Yates’ warning, Spicer finally said, “I’m not aware of any.”

    Read more:
    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/05/sean-spicer-says-white-house-distrusted-sally-yates-political-opponent-clinton

  5. M
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I don’t trust Lindsay Graham to do the right thing, but I suppose it’s possible.

    Just in: Sen @LindseyGrahamSC tells @mkraju he now wants to probe Pres. Trump’s business ties to #Russia following Mon hearing w/Clapper

    https://twitter.com/jimsciutto/status/861960559897567233

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