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Five key moments from Sally Yates’ testimony on Capitol Hill

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates said Monday she warned the top lawyer in the White House that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia.
Former acting attorney general Sally Yates said Monday she warned the top lawyer in the White House that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia.

In a highly anticipated hearing, former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified for the first time about why she notified White House officials that President Trump’s newly named national security adviser could be compromised.

In the three-hour long hearing on Monday afternoon, members of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee questioned Yates about the former Trump adviser, Michael Flynn. She was also asked about her own dismissal after she refused to sign off on Trump’s first travel ban, which has since failed to get approval from the courts.

On paper, the hearing was supposed to examine how the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 election. Yates testified alongside James Clapper, a top intelligence chief during the Obama administration.


Here are five key moments from the hearing:

1. “The Vice President was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because, we believed, that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.”

In her testimony, Yates said she went to the White House twice to talk with President Trump’s top lawyer, Donald McGahn. She said she did so for a number of reasons, but chief among them were that the Justice Department had concluded that Flynn could be compromised by the Russians. In other words, the Justice Department knew that Flynn had lied to the vice president, — and so, most likely, did the Russians.

“To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” Yates explained.

2. “It is very sensitive.”

This one came from Clapper. He said that British intelligence shared with him and other US officials showed collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

Clapper said he couldn’t say anything more because the information was sensitive. That said, neither Clapper or Yates said they had any direct knowledge of Trump being directly involved with the Russian government.


3. “I believe it took place at the White House.”

Yates said she believed Flynn was interviewed by the FBI inside the White House and without a lawyer. Her depiction paints a dramatic scene in the first days of the Trump administration.

4. The two times Yates outmaneuvered Cruz on legal matters.

US Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, is known as an eloquent debater and swift legal mind. But Yates bested him in this hearing — twice.

First, Cruz cited a law that was intended to show that Trump had the right to execute his first travel ban (the one with which Yates disagreed and that eventually led to her public firing). Yates then cited a more recent law, which she said specifically did not allow Trump to issue that executive order.

Second, Cruz asked, “In the over 200 years of the Department of Justice history, are you aware of any instance in which the Department of Justice has formally approved the legality of a policy and three days later the attorney general has directed the department not to follow that policy and to defy that policy?” Cruz said.

Yates responded, “I’m not, but I’m also not aware of a situation where the Office of Legal Counsel was advised not to tell the attorney general about it until after it was over.”

6. “Unclassified is not leaking.”

This was a doozy from Clapper. US Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana asked Clapper whether he had ever leaked classified or unclassified information to the press.


Clapper responded: “Unclassified is not leaking.”

The room laughed.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: