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Russian Interference in the U.S. Election: Yates and Clapper Finally Testify

by Countable | 5.9.17

Senators heard the the long awaited testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper on Monday. The hearing, entitled "Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Election," was before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. But its focus was largely uncovering the details and timing of Yates’ conversations with administration officials about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

In his opening statements, Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) set the stage for the hearing about "all things Russia." He declared that “Every American should be concerned about what the Russians did [to interfere with the 2016 election]...there’s no doubt in my mind it was the Russians involved...not some 400 lb guy on a bed or any other country.”

Yates testified in detail about her conversations in late January with White House Counsel Donald McGahn. In two meetings, on January 26 and 27, she and a senior career official from the Justice Department's National Security Division met with McGahn and an unidentified staffer to inform them of Department of Justice concerns about then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. They outlined how Flynn had lied to the administration about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and that the Russians likely had proof. Therefore, Flynn was "compromised" and in a position to be blackmailed.

Yates stated clearly that Vice President Pence did not, they believed, knowingly misrepresent Flynn’s actions, but that Flynn had lied to the vice president. In fact, in their opinion, it was his lying that "compromised" him and made him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government.

Yates’ told senators about that first meeting:

"We...walked through with Mr. McGahn essentially why we were telling [the administration] about this. The first thing..was that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself...And we wanted to make it really clear right out of the gate that we were not accusing Vice-President Pence of knowingly providing false information to the American people… We were concerned that the American people had been misled…[and] that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this. The Russians also knew what Gen. Flynn had done and...knew that the general had misled the vice-president and others...This was a problem because not only did the Russians know this but that they likely had proof of this information and that created a compromise situation, a situation where the National Security Advisor could essentially be blackmailed."

Former DNI Clapper also testified at length, though his testimony wasn't as electrifying. Clapper talked about "unmasking": revealing the identities of U.S. citizens who are caught on tape during their conversations with other foreign nationals under legal surveillance. He also testified about Russian interference in prior elections, and investigations into it while Clapper was the head of national intelligence, as well as the importance of section 702 of the Patriot Act. Section 702 allows for surveillance of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States.

Senators repeatedly questioned both Yates and Clapper about whether they leaked, or ordered the leak, of classified material. Both responded that they had not.

Throughout the early part of the hearing, Yates asserted repeatedly that she would not disclose information that was classified or would affect an ongoing investigation. Some hoped that she would disclose information not previously known about conversations between herself and McGahn. She did not disclose unknown or explosive information, but Yates did assert that the administration knew the seriousness of Gen. Flynn’s potential threat to national security for 18 days before he was removed from his position.

What classified information and meetings Flynn was privy to during those 18 days is still unknown.

Yates was fired from her position as the Acting Attorney General on January 30. The Trump administration says it fired her because she instructed Justice Department staff to not defend the president’s first travel ban executive order. Democratic senators called into question the timing of Yates’ firing so soon after she brought to the administration’s attention the security issues with Flynn.

Republican senators focused instead on Yates’ choice not to defend the travel ban. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asserted that Yates’ perspective that the executive order was unconstitutional was beyond her authority. "Who appointed you to the United States Supreme Court?" he asked.

Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) expressed ‘disappointment,' having voted for her confirmation previously. He also stated that she had overstepped her authority. Yates responded:

"I remember my confirmation hearing and an exchange that I had with you and others of your colleagues where you specifically asked me…’If the President asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional’, and one of your colleagues said, ‘or just that would reflect poorly on the Department of Justice...would I say no’. And I looked at this, I made a determination that I believed it was unlawful. I also thought it was inconsistent with the principles of the Department of Justice and I said no. That’s what I promised you I would do and that’s what I did."

What are your questions about Russian interference in American politics following yesterday’s hearing? Use the "Take Action" button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(98)
  • Susan
    05/09/2017
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    After listening to the Yates and Clapper testimony, I am more convinced then ever the Russian/Trump Investigation needs to be independent and headed up by a special prosecutor.

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  • Devani
    05/09/2017
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    Sally Yates has been absolutely amazing to watch. Despite the attempts to derail and distract hers and Clapper's testimonies leave very little doubt that Russia interfered.

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  • Julie
    05/09/2017
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    We need an independent investigation and special prosecutor. This has to be fully investigated and witnesses protected. We cannot afford this becoming a political mess. It's a criminal issue and must be handled in an objective, non-partisan way, free from all implications of bias.

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  • eac2020
    05/09/2017
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    There needs to be an independent committee investigating. Trump and his entire administration must be held accountable and prosecuted for their actions.

    Like (26)
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  • Katherine
    05/09/2017
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    Please appoint an independent commission now.

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  • Judy
    05/09/2017
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    The investigations are underway even if the public doesn't know. James Comey said as many as 40 individuals. Sally Yates and James Clapper were great and couldn't be tripped up. However, more needs to be done. An independent, bipartisan commission and special prosecutor need to be set up. I don't trust Republicans to be objective when they have a monopoly in our government.

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  • Beth
    05/09/2017
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    Independent investigation with special prosecutor needs to be done. Yates and Clapper did a very good job with what could be disclosed. The White House is covering up big time. Those involved need to be prosecuted and bright to justice. Our Democracy needs to be protected at all costs from any interference from any Foreign Goverment.

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  • HilaryPerkins
    05/09/2017
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    We need to stop this GOP obstructionism. These men and women who posture and preen, but care nothing about the county - it's only about power and party for them. Imagine if Hillary did a fraction of what 45 is doing? Articles of impeachment would already be moving through Congress.

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  • Jill
    05/09/2017
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    We need a full non partisan investigation with an independent prosecutor. Our democracy is going down in the flames of greed, treason and oligarchy.

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  • Ron
    05/09/2017
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    Independent investigation and special prosecutor. The WH is frantic and spinning lies upon lies. For #conmandon to say he had no business interests in Russia is laughable. Follow the money and follow the lies.

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  • Luke
    05/09/2017
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    And we still have absolutely no evidence of collusion.

    Like (11)
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  • Ronald
    05/09/2017
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    What this country REALLY needs is to end the sniveling, bickering, finger pointing, race baiting, and partisan bullshit. Congress needs to get over itself and do something productive for the good of the country.

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  • Ronald
    05/09/2017
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    Sure Russia hacked and got behind US security firewalls. So what's new this or different??? The US has been doing the same thing in other country's elections for decades. Does not make it right, though. STILL absolutely nothing to disprove that Hill^Billy LOST because she was and remains crooked as hell, a person who has committed treason, perjury, and murder.

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  • Scott
    05/09/2017
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    Please continue to push for an independent investigation....do not stop until we know the truth!

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  • Sue
    05/09/2017
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    We need an independent investigation and a special prosecutor. Republicans are reluctant to investigate fully the Russian role in the 2016 election and ties between Russia and Trump and associates. We need a bipartisan independent effort.

    Like (7)
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  • Samuel
    05/09/2017
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    Give Yates her job back! An independent investigation is a must.

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  • Cherelle
    05/09/2017
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    Senator Cruz and Senator Cornyn after watching these hearings I'm more convinced than ever that these proceedings need to be led by an independent group. It is clear that you both are highly emotional and too involved to be objective during these hearings.

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  • Millie
    05/09/2017
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    Please start the process of an independent investigation into Trump, his family, his advisors and Russia! You have plenty of evidence! This is serious! Appoint this team right away and find out the full extent of Russian ties!! This has drug on too long and our democracy is at stake!!

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  • Josh
    05/09/2017
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    Anything to attempt to disprove Trump as President. America is doing better then it has in the last 10 years. And please, it has nothing to do with obama. He's not racist, he's no Nazi (find out what a Nazi is before saying he is. I will say B. Sanders and his dumb followers are though. Socialist Workers Party), and the White Privilege thing is a myth. If you think obama got in fair and square you are just as dumb and ignorant as you are claiming Trump supports are. Don't be afraid of the success Trump will bring back to America. Daumb anti-Trumoers will still cry even when he brings jobs at pay better back to America. Talk about biting the hand that feeds.

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  • Joseph
    05/09/2017
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    45 unbalanced. Russian ties no help to an already dire situation. Wake up across the aisle. American needs to be saved. We are at great peril with the current fools trying to run our great country. History will ask what wax your position/action.

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