Clapper and Yates Grilled In Senate Subcommittee on Russian Probe

When will Congress force Susan Rice to do the same?

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama administration holdover, testified on Monday before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in connection with the ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference with last year’s presidential election. There were no major revelations during over three hours of testimony. The saga of General Michael Flynn, whom served briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser before being dismissed for misleading Trump administration officials about his Russian contacts, was a recurrent theme of the hearing. Another was the unmasking of the names of Trump associates on whom information was incidentally collected during the course of surveillance focused on foreign targets, and the leaks to the media that followed. 

Both Mr. Clapper and Ms. Yates said they had viewed classified documents in which the identities of Donald Trump or his associates had been unmasked, but declined to provide any details. Ms. Yates indicated that she herself had not asked for any such unmasking. Mr. Clapper said that he had at least on one occasion requested unmasking involving a Trump associate. Both denied having leaked any such information to the press. Moreover, neither was aware of any classified information relating to Mr. Trump or his associates being declassified and then shared with the media.

Mr. Clapper reaffirmed his conclusion that no evidence existed of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. He also confirmed that during his investigation he did not find a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave him concern during the course of the preparation of the intelligence communities’ assessment.

Ms. Yates refused to state where she stood on the collusion issue in the public subcommittee setting, falling back on a justification she used repeatedly in not answering any questions that she claimed “would require me to reveal classified information.” 

Despite getting no support from either Mr. Clapper or Ms. Yates on the existence of supposed collusion, Democrats on the subcommittee nevertheless kept hammering away on their speculative conspiracy theories without any evidence to support them. That is one reason why they kept coming back to the Flynn story, in an effort to draw broad but unsupportable inferences of something even more nefarious at work.

Ms. Yates claimed to have warned the White House, in particular White House Counsel Don McGahn, during the very early days of the Trump administration regarding Flynn’s misleading statements on his prior contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.  "The Russians also knew what Gen. Flynn had done and that Gen. Flynn had misled the Vice President and others…that created a compromise situation — a situation where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians," Ms. Yates said. In addition to the concern that Flynn was compromised, she said “we felt like the Vice President was entitled to know that the information he had been given, and that he was relaying to the American public, wasn't true.”

Mr. Clapper confirmed the role that British intelligence, along with other allies, played in sharing information they had with U.S. intelligence officials regarding purported links between Russians and Trump associates. He said the specifics were “quite sensitive.” Curiously, however, the former director of national intelligence claimed to have been in the dark about the FBI’s own investigation into the Russian-Trump campaign relationship.  

Regarding a matter unrelated to the Russian interference investigation, Ms. Yates tried to justify her decision not to defend President Trump’s initial travel suspension executive order. She claimed that the order was “unlawful" because, in her view, it was based on the intent to discriminate against Muslims that impinged on religious freedom. Ms. Yates was summarily dismissed as acting Attorney General for taking it upon herself to act as a “judge,” rather than an executive branch official at the Justice Department whose job includes defending the current administration’s actions and decisions against legal challenges. As Senator John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) asked Ms. Yates during the hearing, “Who appointed you to the United States Supreme Court?”

The public hearing shed no new light on the Russian attempts to influence the presidential election. There still is no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign or transition team and Russian officials. There is no evidence that the outcome of the election would have been any different in the absence of Russian interference and the series of WikiLeaks dumps of hacked e-mails. In France, widespread hacking and leaking of Emmanuel Macron’s e-mails in an apparent attempt to help Macron’s opponent, Marine Le Pen, certainly did not work. Macron won the presidential runoff election in a landslide. 

At least Mr. Clapper and Ms. Yates showed up to testify publicly before the subcommittee, even if what they had to say was not very illuminating.  Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who appears to have been at the center of the unmasking of the identities of American citizens and may well have knowledge of what happened to that information, has thus far refused to testify. She should be subpoenaed immediately.

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