At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates recalls the warnings she gave that then-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn could have been "blackmailed by the Russians."
"We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done," Yates said Monday afternoon in the Senate hearing.
Both Yates and Clapper denied having any idea how the information about Flynn "made it to the Washington Post."
The president suggests:
General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration - but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Full transcript, via the Senate Judiciary Committee:
YATES: I had two in-person meetings and one phone call with the White House Counsel about Mr. Flynn. The first meeting occurred on January 26, called Don McGahn first thing that morning and told him that I had a very sensitive matter that I needed to discuss with him, that I couldn't talk about it on the phone and that I needed to come see him. And he agreed to meet with me later that afternoon.
I took a senior member of the national security division who was overseeing this matter with me to meet with Mr. McGahn. We met in his office at the White House which is a skiff (ph) so we could discuss classified information in his office. We began our meeting telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.
And as I - as I tell you what happened here, again I'm going to be very careful not to reveal classified information.
GRAHAM: Well the reason you knew it wasn't true was because you had collected some intelligence from an incidental collection system, is that fair to say?
YATES: And I can't answer that because that again would call me - for me to reveal classified information.
GRAHAM: Let me ask you this, did anybody ever make a request to unmask the conversation between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Flynn?
YATES: And again, Senator, I can't answer a question like that, it would call for classified information...
GRAHAM: ...Mr. Clapper, do you know if that was the case?
CLAPPER: I don't.
GRAHAM: Is there a way to find that out?
CLAPPER: Well, in another setting it could be discussed.
GRAHAM: But there is a record somewhere of who would make a request to unmask the conversation with General Flynn and the Russian ambassador?
CLAPPER: Well, I'm...
GRAHAM: ...If one was made, there'd be a record of it?
CLAPPER: I can't speak to this specific case but I can generally comment that in the case of 702 requests, yes, those are all documented.
GRAHAM: OK and I don't mean to interrupt you but this is important to me. How did the conversation between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Flynn make it to the "Washington Post?"
YATES: Which one of us are you asking?
GRAHAM: Ms. Yates.
CLAPPER: That's a great question.
GRAHAM: I thought so...
CLAPPER: ...All of us would like to know that and I don't know the answer to that.
YATES: Yeah. Nor do I know the answer to that.
GRAHAM: Is it fair to say that if somebody did make an unmasking request, we would know who they were and we could find out from them who they shared the information with? Is that fair to say, the system would allow us to do what I just described?
YATES: Well, unmasking requests are not made to the Department of Justice.
GRAHAM: No but to the agency who does the collection.
YATES: That's my understanding is that yes...
GRAHAM: ...So there should be a record somewhere in our system whether or not an unmasking request was made for the conversation between Mr. Flynn and the Russian ambassador. We should be ale to determine if it did - if it was made, who made it. Then we can ask, what did they do with the information? Is that a fair statement, Mr. Clapper?
GRAHAM: OK. Now what did you finish? What did you tell the White House?
YATES: So I told them again that there were a number of press accounts of statements that had been made by the vice president and other high-ranking White House officials about General Flynn's conduct that we knew to be untrue. And we told them how we knew that this - how we had this information, how we had acquired it, and how we knew that it was untrue.
And we walked the White House Counsel who also had an associate there with him through General Flynn's underlying conduct, the contents of which I obviously cannot go through with you today because it's classified. But we took him through in a fair amount of detail of the underlying conduct, what General Flynn had done, and then we walked through the various press accounts and how it had been falsely reported.
We also told the White House Counsel that General Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on February 24. Mr. McGahn asked me how he did and I declined to give him an answer to that. And we then walked through with Mr. McGahn essentially why we were telling them about this and the first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself.
Secondly, we told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn't true. And we wanted to make it really clear right out of the gate that we were not accusing Vice President Pence of knowingly providing false information to the American people.
And, in fact, Mr. McGahn responded back to me to let me know that anything that General Flynn would've said would have been based -- excuse me -- anything that Vice President Pence would have said would have been based on what General Flynn had told him.
We told him the third reason was -- is because we were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and additionally, that we weren't the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done.
And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others, because in the media accounts, it was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn had told them, and that this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information.
And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians. Finally, we told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate.
I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not General Flynn should be fired, and I told him that that really wasn't our call, that was up to them, but that we were giving them this information so that they could take action, and that was the first meeting.