Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Sally Yates' Testimony Was Very Bad News for the Trump White House


Being at work, I did not get to watch all of the coverage of the testimony of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former of national intelligence, James Clapper, but from what I did get to see at the office on the kitchen television, two things were very clear: (i) Republican Senators tried to focus on everything other than the main purpose of the hearing, namely possible Trump?Russia collusion to subvert the 2016 presidential campaign, and (ii) there is much more that the public needs to know which could well lead to serious consequences for the Trump/Pence White House.  The third reflection is that the hearings were far less boring that some thought they would be or as inconsequential as Der Trumpenf├╝hrer and his sycophants would have  people believe would be the case.  An article at Mother Jones sums up the trashing the White House took in the course of the hearings and the damage done to Trump's efforts to lie and dissemble.  Here are excerpts:
The much-anticipated Senate hearing on Monday afternoon with former acting attorney general Sally Yates and former director of national intelligence James Clapper confirmed an important point: the Russia story still poses tremendous trouble for President Donald Trump and his crew. 
Yates recounted a disturbing tale. She recalled that on January 26, she requested and received a meeting with Don McGahn, Trump's White House counsel. At the time, Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials were saying that ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's national security adviser, had not spoken the month before with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, about the sanctions then-President Barack Obama had imposed on the Russians as punishment for Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. Yates' Justice Department had evidence—presumably intercepts of Flynn's communications with Kislyak—that showed this assertion was flat-out false. 
At that meeting, Yates shared two pressing concerns with McGahn: that Flynn had lied to the vice president and that Flynn could now be blackmailed by the Russians because they knew he had lied about his conversations with Kislyak. As Yates told the members of the Senate subcommittee on crime and terrorism, "To state the obvious: you don't want your national security adviser compromised by the Russians." She and McGahn also discussed whether Flynn had violated any laws. 
The next day, McGahn asked Yates to return to the White House, and they had another discussion. According to Yates, McGahn asked whether it would interfere with the FBI's ongoing investigation of Flynn if the White House took action regarding this matter. No, Yates said she told him. The FBI had already interviewed Flynn. And Yates explained to the senators that she had assumed that the White House would not sit on the information she presented McGahn and do nothing. 
But that's what the White House did. . . . . He [Flynn] remained in the job, hiring staff for the National Security Council and participating in key policy decision-making.
On February 9, the Washington Post revealed that Flynn had indeed spoken with Kislyak about the sanctions. And still the Trump White House backed him up. . . . . Trump displayed no concern about Flynn's misconduct.
The conclusion from Yates' testimony was clear: Trump didn't dump Flynn until the Kislyak matter became a public scandal and embarrassment. The Justice Department warning—hey, your national security adviser could be compromised by the foreign government that just intervened in the American presidential campaign—appeared to have had no impact on Trump's actions regarding Flynn. Imagine what Republicans would say if a President Hillary Clinton retained as national security adviser a person who could be blackmailed by Moscow. 
The subcommittee's hearing was also inconvenient for Trump and his supporters on another key topic: it destroyed one of their favorite talking points. 
Trump on March 20 tweeted, "James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. The story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!"
At Monday's hearing, Clapper pulled this rug out from under the White House and its comrades. He noted that it was standard policy for the FBI not to share with him details about ongoing counterintelligence investigations. And he said he had not been aware of the FBI's investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russia that FBI director James Comey revealed weeks ago at a House intelligence committee hearing. Consequently, when Clapper told Todd that he was not familiar with any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, he was speaking accurately. But he essentially told the Senate subcommittee that he was not in a position to know for certain. This piece of spin should now be buried. Trump can no longer hide behind this one Clapper statement. 
Clapper also dropped another piece of information disquieting for the Trump camp. Last month, the Guardian reported that British intelligence in late 2015 collected intelligence on suspicious interactions between Trump associates and known or suspected Russian agents and passed this information to to the United States "as part of a routine exchange of information." Asked about this report, Clapper said it was "accurate." He added, "The specifics are quite sensitive." This may well have been the first public confirmation from an intelligence community leader that US intelligence agencies have possessed secret information about ties between Trump's circle and Moscow.
So this hearing indicated that the Trump White House protected a national security adviser who lied and who could be compromised by Moscow, that Trump can no longer cite Clapper to claim there was no collusion, and that US intelligence had sensitive information on interactions between Trump associates and possible Russian agents as early as late 2015. Still, most of the Republicans on the panel focused on leaks and "unmasking"—not the main issues at hand.
[T]his hearing demonstrated that serious inquiry can expand the public knowledge of the Trump-Russia scandal—and that there remains much more to examine and unearth. 

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