Shortly before Rep. Devin Nunes abruptly canceled this week’s House Intelligence Committee hearings on the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, the Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying at those hearings. Yates served as deputy attorney general in the final years of the Obama administration, and also as acting attorney general in the first days of the Trump administration. She was quickly fired after instructing the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s first immigration order.
As the acting attorney general, Yates played an important role in the investigation of Michael T. Flynn. Flynn, the Trump campaign aide turned national security adviser, was forced to resign following revelations that he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s U.S. ambassador in late December 2016. In January, Yates warned White House counsel Donald McGahn that statements made by White House officials about Flynn’s contacts with the ambassador were incorrect, and could expose Flynn to future blackmail by the Russians. By last Thursday, Yates and former CIA director John Brennan, another witness at the planned House Intelligence Committee hearings, had informed the government that their testimony probably would contradict statements made by White House officials about Flynn’s contacts.
According to letters obtained by the Washington Post, Yates’s attorney advised both the Department of Justice and the White House that Yates’s testimony would not disclose classified information or other details that could compromise investigations. In response, the Department of Justice initially argued that any testimony regarding Yates’s January communications with the White House about Flynn would be limited by attorney-client confidentiality. DOJ attorneys later suggested that these communications were “likely covered by the presidential communications privilege and possibly the deliberative process privilege.” Yates’s attorney responded that any such privileges had been “waived as a result of the multiple public comments of current senior White House officials describing the January 2017 communications.”
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer quickly deemed the Post’s report on the attempt to block Yates’s testimony “100 percent false.”
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