Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates will testify today to a Senate subcommittee probing Michael Flynn’s almost-as-brief tenure as national security adviser — and Donald Trump isn’t happy about it. The president used his usual channel of communication to call into question Yates’ credibility, and to remind followers that Flynn didn’t get his security clearance from the new administration. Perhaps Twitter has become a new form of executive privilege:
As The Hill notes, the slap at the Obama administration isn’t exactly new. Sean Spicer said essentially the same thing last month, after new revelations about Flynn’s business dealings emerged, saying that “he had an active security clearance that was issued during the Obama administration with all the information that’s being discussed that occurred in 2015.” Why, Spicer wondered, would one need to run a background check on someone who already had a top clearance?
After the last few weeks of politically embarrassing revelations about Flynn’s activities, that question answers itself. But it’s one thing to rely on an existing clearance rather than do a recheck; it’s another to ignore explicit warnings when they arise. The existence of that warning is the presumed content of Yates’ testimony today, and why it shapes up as more of an embarrassment to the current White House than its predecessor — but probably not much more than that:
Yates’s testimony Monday is expected to contradict public statements made by White House press secretary Sean Spicer and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who described the Yates-
McGahn meeting as less of a warning and more of a “heads up’’ about an issue involving Flynn. …
People familiar with the matter say both statements understate the seriousness of what Yates told McGahn — that she went to the White House to warn them that Flynn could be compromised — or blackmailed — by the Russians at some point if they threatened to reveal the true nature of his conversations with the ambassador.
Those people said that although Yates’s testimony may contradict Spicer and Priebus, her appearance Monday is unlikely to reveal new details about the FBI’s investigation into whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian officials to meddle with last year’s presidential election, in part because many of the details of that probe remain classified.
CBS News, in one of its clips, described Yates’ testimony in a chyron as a “bombshell,” but that seems premature at best. CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes that it will remind Trump that the Russia story “isn’t going away any time soon”:
Depending on what Yates says — and how the White House reacts — any momentum built from last week (and I am somewhat skeptical there was much) could disappear into thin air. Regardless, Yates’ testimony — and the latest news about Flynn — is a reminder that the Russia story just isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Trump and his administration are clearly frustrated by the Russia drumbeat. But their dismissive approach could well come back to bite them in regards Flynn this week and potentially in the future.
Whether this President likes it or not, the Russia story isn’t going away anytime soon. Given that, he and his senior team have to figure out a better message than they’ve had to date.
Is accusing Yates of being a leaker a better message? Er … probably not, but it’s classic Trump. He wants to damage her credibility as she takes the stand, and send a signal to Senate Republicans to get tough with her on cross-examination. It will be interesting to see whether this question actually gets asked during today’s hearing, especially given the increased interest in leaks in both chambers of Congress, but Yates is presumably smart enough to have avoided being the direct source of leaks. If she had leaked the information, she would certainly be smart enough to decline the opportunity to testify in this hearing — as Susan Rice did with her refusal to appear.
Don’t expect bombshells in today’s testimony, though, as the leaks leading up to it have probably deflated any surprises that would emerge from it. Yates will make clear that the White House largely ignored her warnings about Flynn, but he only lasted three weeks — so they clearly listened to someone about him. It’s already clear that the Trump administration got caught with their pants down on Flynn before quickly dumping him, so there’s not much more embarrassment to be derived out of this chapter. They got rid of Flynn so quickly that it’s impossible to argue for a cover-up. There may be more to the Russia narrative, as Cillizza suggests, but the Flynn angle appears entirely played out except for the public beatings … from both sides.