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The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner, said on Tuesday that former acting Attorney General Sally Yates “is an individual we’re going to want to talk to” as part of the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“You may have heard that it appears either the White House or the Justice Department was trying to preclude Sally Yates from testifying,” Warner told reporters in a gaggle inside the Capitol, referring to a Washington Post report saying the White House tried to prevent Yates from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee this week.
“Clearly she is an individual that we’re going to want to talk to as well,” Warner said. When asked if the committee had asked Yates to testify, Warner said he was “not going through the specific names, but it was obviously my intent that Sally Yates would be one of the people.”
Yates, who was appointed Deputy Attorney General by President Obama and served as the acting Attorney General from January 20 to 30, was scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, along with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, scrapped the hearing late last week.
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On Tuesday morning, the Post reported that “the Trump administration considers a great deal” of Yates’ possible testimony “to be barred from discussion,” and that the White House therefore interfered to prevent Yates from testifying before the committee.
Yates reportedly warned the White House in January that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Flynn resigned a few weeks later after reports emerged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer strongly pushed back against the report on Tuesday, calling it “100% false.”
“I hope she testifies,” Spicer said. “I look forward to it.”
The report about Yates has compounded speculation that the White House is trying to interfere in the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe.
Last week, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, traveled to the White House without notifying the Democratic ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff, to brief Trump on classified executive branch documents he said related to government surveillance of Trump’s transition team after the election. He had traveled to White House grounds the day before to obtain the documents from an intelligence source, he said.
Nunes told reporters on Monday that no one from the White House knew he was there when he obtained the documents, which he claims have nothing to do with Russia.
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National security experts and White House reporters have argued that it is highly unlikely Nunes could have obtained access to the White House grounds unnoticed, while members of Congress are wondering why Nunes would go around his committee to brief Trump on the documents directly.
Warner addressed Nunes’ recent actions on Tuesday, telling reporters that “none of us, Democrat or Republican, on the Senate Intelligence Committee still has any idea what he’s talking about” and that “these kind of actions aren’t making our investigation easier.”
“You know for an administration who started by saying that there had never been any contacts with Russia, an administration where you had a candidate, now a president, who continues to compliment [Russian] President Putin…to have all of these actions sure doesn’t do much to remove the cloud that is increasingly getting darker over this administration,” Warner said.
“If there’s nothing there, then let everybody testify, let’s get all the facts out, and let’s do it in a bipartisan fashion the way we are doing it in the Senate,” he added.