Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by the Trump administration in January after refusing to defend the first travel ban, appeared in a hotly anticipated Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Russian interference Monday afternoon along with former CIA director James Clapper. During the hearing, Yates swatted down a number of stupid questions from Republican senators with the calm, drawling precision of an Italian swordmaster.
In her opening remarks, Yates warned that “many of the topics of interest today concern classified information that I cannot address in this public setting, either directly or indirectly,” and during the hearing, as in other hearings held recently on Russian interference, both she and Clapper declined to answer or give detailed answers to a number of questions. However, during the hearing Yates revealed that she had two sit-downs and two phone calls with White House Counsel Donald McGahn to discuss Michael Flynn, informing them that Flynn was susceptible to Russian blackmail because he’d lied to Vice President Pence about his contact with the Russian ambassador.
According to Yates, McGahn asked to see evidence, which Yates said she worked to provide; however, she was subsequently fired, and said she doesn’t know whether anyone actually looked at it. Certainly doesn’t seem like it, since Flynn wasn’t fired until 18 days later, when the Washington Post reported that he had in fact discussed US sanctions against Russia with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Yates also noted that the “underlying conduct that Flynn had engaged in was problematic in itself.” She recalled that McGahn asked her a somewhat disturbing question, although she was careful not to characterize it that way: “Why does it matter to the DOJ when one White House official lies to another White House official?”
“I don’t understand why he didn’t understand that...” said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) in a later exchange.
Meanwhile, pundits and lawmakers wondered whether the president’s aggressive tweets at Yates functioned as “witness intimidation.”
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) opened the hearing by asserting his belief that Russia was behind the 2016 election interference, “not some 400 pound guy sitting on a bed or any other country.”
“When one party is attacked, all of us should feel attacked,” Graham said. That, uh, did not turn out to be the case, as most of the Republican senators on the subcommittee opted to focus their questions on “unmasking,” leaks to the media, and why Yates had dared to question the constitutionality of Trump’s first travel ban, which was in fact later determined to be unconstitutional. None of this went particularly well for them, as has tended to be the case whenever Congressional Republicans have opted to grill high-powered women with thinly sourced questions. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) chided Yates on her travel ban decision, declaring it “enormously disappointing,” after which this incredible piece of literature happened:
Cornyn was also upset that Susan Rice was not testifying—that would be far more interesting than discussing Russian interference in the United States’ democratic system, don’t you think? Meanwhile Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), after being one of approximately 90 GOP senators to ask Clapper and Yates whether they ever leaked to the press (they said no), opted to list past instances of Russian interference in U.S. politics in a clear attempt to minimize the issue at hand, while claiming that he was not trying to minimize the issue at hand. (Clapper at one point pointedly referred to leaks and unmasking as important but “ancillary issues” next to Russian interference in our democracy.)
And you know Ted Cruz had to get in there! Armed with a penetrating stare several notches shy of intimidating, Cruz attempted to tangle with Yates and got dunked on, hard:
Have an excellent night, everyone, I’m off to go get this incredible exchange implanted in a chip inside my brain.