Sally Yates will testify Monday on her role in the ousting of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and is likely to cast a harsh light on the White House’s handling of his firing.
Her testimony will also revive another controversial episode — her own firing as acting attorney general in January, which came after she refused to defend President Donald Trump’s first travel ban targeting citizens from several Muslim-majority countries. That executive order was soon blocked by the courts.
Yates was first scheduled to appear in March before the House Intelligence Committee, but the session was canceled as relations broke down between Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and his committee’s Democrats, who accused him of using his post to provide political cover for the White House. The Justice Department also raised concerns about Yates’ scheduled appearance before the House panel, citing executive privilege.
Into the void stepped Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), whose subcommittee on crime and terrorism has jurisdiction over the FBI and parts of the Justice Department. Graham is a staunch Russia hawk who has been one of the president’s fiercest Republican critics and has vowed to get to the bottom of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and any Trump campaign ties to Moscow.
Graham said last week the White House raised no objections to Monday’s hearing with Yates. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is also set to appear before the subcommittee, which will begin its hearing at 2:30 p.m.
Since the canceled March hearing, Democratic lawmakers have hinted that Yates’ testimony could be damaging for Trump; Flynn was shown the door only after it became public that he had misled his colleagues when he told them he did not discuss sanctions in pre-inauguration calls with Russia’s ambassador.
Yates warned White House counsel Donald McGahn on Jan. 26 that there were discrepancies in Flynn’s story and that he could be vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia. Flynn was not fired until Feb. 13.
In a statement after the House hearing was canceled, the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said the session would have provided an opportunity for Yates “to testify about the events leading up to former National Security Advisor Flynn’s firing, including his attempts to cover up his secret conversations with the Russian Ambassador.”
“We are aware that former AG Yates intended to speak on these matters, and sought permission to testify from the White House,” Schiff said at the time. “Whether the White House’s desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today’s hearing, we do not know.”
The House panel is now seeking to reschedule its Yates hearing.