Senate GOP Disrespects Sally Yates During Testimony On Russian Interference
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates remotely testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to answer questions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. Yates appeared as part of Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) probe into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation and former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Graham is one of two Senate Republicans running probes into the Obama administration’s investigations of Russia. During an often contentious day of testimony, Senate GOP grilled Yates on issues that often seemed unrelated to the Mueller Report, instead echoing talking points from the Trump 2020 campaign. Yates shot down conspiracy theories, saying no one spied on the Trump Campaign, but did acknowledge she had issues regarding James Comey.
Meanwhile, as Yates testified that neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden were involved in the FBI’s investigation of disgraced General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump (whom Yates had tried to warn regarding Flynn) took to his Twitter in real time to discredit her with false accusations. Trump said Yates “has zero credibility. She was a part of the greatest political crime of the Century, and ObamaBiden knew EVERYTHING! Sally Yates leaked the General Flynn conversation? Ask her under oath. Republicans should start playing the Democrats game!”
Flynn was fired in 2017 for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Flynn had initially entered into an agreement in 2017 to cooperate with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and pleaded guilty, but he subsequently withdrew from the plea agreement and was fighting the charges. Yates, who was a prosecutor for nearly 30 years, said the effort to drop a prosecution against a defendant who twice pleaded guilty was “highly irregular.”
Yates also knocked down several GOP talking points, including that Obama or Biden was attempting to direct the direction of the Flynn investigation. Yates also repeatedly rejected assertions that a potential violation of the Logan Act was driving the FBI’s decision to investigate Flynn.
Republicans made some headway by asking Yates about actions by James Comey in 2016 and early 2017. The FBI reports to the leaders of the Justice Department, but Comey hadn’t told the attorney general or the deputy about intercepts between Flynn and Kislyak at the time of the White House meeting in early January.
Yates acknowledged to senators she was “frankly, irritated” that Comey appeared to be going rogue.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) asked Yates if Trump “violated the law by colluding with Russia.” When Yates replied that Mueller had found there was insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy but that she hadn’t taken part in the Mueller investigation and shouldn’t opine further on it, Kennedy asked if Yates just “couldn’t bring yourself to say that he didn’t violate the law.”
“Senator, you’re putting words in my mouth,” Yates responded.
When Yates told Kennedy that she didn’t “respect the manner in which [Trump] has carried out the presidency,” he then asked, “You despise Donald Trump, don’t you?”
“I don’t despise anyone, senator,” she added.
The last time Yates appeared before the Senate, she shut down a line of questioning from Ted Cruz. Another similar moment occurred late in the proceedings when Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri attacked Yates regarding the warrants on Carter Page. “Nobody appears to know anything in this government, and yet somehow a federal court was deliberately and systematically misled,” Hawley said. “If this doesn’t call for a cleaning of house at DOJ and the FBI, I don’t know what does.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, defended Yates, saying, “I see no reason for those remarks. They’re inflammatory.” Graham then defended Hawley, saying they weren’t “inflammatory at all.”
As Graham questioned Yates and repeatedly interrupted her answers, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the panel, also defended Yates saying, “Just because it’s a woman testifying doesn’t mean she has to be cut off.”
“Thanks a lot, Sen. Leahy. I really appreciate that,” Graham responded sarcastically. “You’re very constructive.”