Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, was concerned that Michael Flynn’s false statements about his contacts with the Russian government had exposed him to blackmail, she testified during a Senate hearing on Monday.
During three hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terror, Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper discussed Russian interference in the 2016 election. The hearing offered the fullest timeline yet of the events that led to Flynn’s forced resignation on February 13, though it left significant questions unanswered.
“We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and also that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this. The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and they Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled Vice President Pence and others,” Yates said. “This was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this but that they also likely had proof. This created a compromise situation … where the national security adviser could be blackmailed by the Russians.”
But the hearing also highlighted the deep partisan divides even inside a small subcommittee. Democrats on the panel focused in on the putative topic of the hearing, Russian interference in the election, but many of the subcommittee’s Republicans were more interested in pressing Yates on her decision not to defend President Trump’s Muslim travel ban in court. (Trump fired Yates on January 30 for that refusal.) Senator Ted Cruz asked a series of questions about whether Hillary Clinton or aides should have been prosecuted for mishandling classified information. Most of the GOP members departed the hearing after asking their questions. The subcommittee’s chair, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, seemed concerned about Russian interference but also determined to figure out who had leaked information about Flynn’s conduct to the press.