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Yates To Tell Senate Panel About Russia Discussions With White House

May 8, 2017
Originally published on May 8, 2017 6:28 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today, more Russia hearings on Capitol Hill. And perhaps we'll be hearing from the most widely anticipated witness today. That would be former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Senators want to ask her about connections between President Trump's team and Russia. Senator Dianne Feinstein says she wants to ask Yates about one connection in particular.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: She apparently has some information as to who knew what when that she is willing to share. And that would be what she knew about Michael Flynn's connections to Russia.

GREENE: Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national security adviser. Now, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein there was speaking on "Meet The Press." And here to raise the curtain on what we might expect from Senator Feinstein and others on the committee, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Hey, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So let's talk about this star witness, Sally Yates. Remind us who she is and how she has found herself at the center of all this.

KELLY: Sure. Sally Yates ran the Justice Department very briefly - very briefly - 10 days - at the start of the Trump presidency until, you may recall, he fired her because she was refusing to defend his travel ban in court.

What we expect she's going to be asked about today is something that happened in those 10 days back in January, specifically a conversation on January 26, in which she apparently warned the White House about then-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington, contacts for which, as we remember, he was fired three weeks later. So as you heard Senator Feinstein say there, the big question today is the who-knew-what-when. And Sally Yates is going to get asked.

GREENE: And what White House officials knew and what they did or did not do about it, I guess, presumably, would be a lot of the questioning. Well, I mean - so Sally Yates is out. Michael Flynn is out. There's all this palace intrigue obviously. But, you know, beyond that, why does it matter right now?

KELLY: Well, you know, they are out. But Flynn is, I think arguably, the most important figure under investigation - and not just by Congress, like this committee that will hold a hearing today, but by the FBI, which is running a counterintelligence probe which could - could - result in criminal charges at some point down the road.

So there's that on the table. The other question which I am hoping they get at today is this head-scratcher of a puzzle as to why Michael Flynn who, let's not forget, before he was national security adviser was the head of the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency. This is a guy who knew his intelligence. He would have known that his communications with the Russian ambassador were being monitored. The Washington Post is reporting that he was explicitly told his calls were being monitored, but he kept on calling. And the big question is - why?

GREENE: And we should note that - Sally Yates, obviously, a lot of the attention on her - but also testifying before a Senate judiciary subcommittee, we have former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. What do senators want to know from him?

KELLY: Right. This is more - there will be more of the who-knew-what-when questions and more, notably, Obama administration people in the spotlight. Clapper served under Obama. He never worked for Trump. But he's going to get - I am assuming - some questions about the political spying, the wiretapping tweets that President Trump has put out. I mean, if I were a senator, I'd want to put a direct question to him. Get him on the record. Ask, did you or other members of the Obama administration engage in political spying, yes or no?

GREENE: Well, I bet that we'll be hearing questions very similar to that.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, thanks so much.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.