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THE SITUATION ROOM
End of Senate Judiciary Hearing; Analysis of Yates & Clapper Testomony. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 8, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
But I also believe that there has to be a special prosecutor. Because what I hear from people in Connecticut and from my colleagues in their town halls and meetings is that people want the truth uncovered about how the Russians sought to interfere and undermine our democracy and electoral system. And they also want accountability.
They want not only the Russians to pay a price, they want anybody who colluded with the Russians or aided and abetted them to pay a price as well. And there are criminal statutes that prohibit that kind of collusion, and impose serious criminal fines and imprisonment for people who might have done that.
And we know that the FBI is now investigating the potential collusion of Trump associates and Trump campaign and administration officials with the Russians, as Director Comey has told us and made public. So, there's no classified information there.
The meeting that the FBI conducted on January 24th preceded by one day, approximately, your first meeting with Donald McGahn. Isn't it a fact that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI?
YATES: And I can't reveal the internal FBI investigation, Senator, even though it's not -- even though part would not be technically classified, it's on ongoing investigation and I can't reveal that.
BLUMENTHAL: Did you tell Donald McGahn that then-National Security Adviser Flynn told the truth to the FBI?
YATES: No, he asked me how he had done in the interview, and I specifically declined to answer that.
BLUMENTHAL: Because it was part of an investigation?
YATES: That's right.
BLUMENTHAL: Was that intended to indicate to him that Michael Flynn had a problem in that interview?
YATES: No, I was intending to let him know that Michael Flynn had a problem on a lot of levels, but it wasn't necessarily with respect to how he performed in the interview. I was intentionally not letting him know how the interview had gone.
BLUMENTHAL: And lying to the FBI is a crime, correct?
YATES: It is, yes.
BLUMENTHAL: Violation of 18 United States Code 1001?
YATES: That's right.
BLUMENTHAL: And it's punishable by five years in prison?
YATES: Yes, it is.
BLUMENTHAL: So, if Michael Flynn lied to the FBI, he had a ton of legal trouble facing him?
YATES: He could face criminal prosecution if he lied to the FBI, yes.
BLUMENTHAL: And if he became a foreign agent for another country, for Turkey, which he was a foreign agent for, without getting permission from the Department of Defense, he faced criminal penalties for that and still faces them, correct?
YATES: Yes. It's certainly FARA violations can be criminally prosecuted, yes.
BLUMENTHAL: In fact, it's a violation of 18 United States Code 219, and that's punishable by two years in prison, correct?
BLUMENTHAL: And his failure to disclose payments from foreign sources which also he had done before you went to Donald McGahn is also criminally punishable, is it not?
YATES: That was not a topic I discussed with Mr. McGahn and so it's not something I can discuss here today.
BLUMENTHAL: But it is in fact, from your knowledge a violation of criminal law, is it not?
YATES: To not disclose payments for it, yes, but I'm not speaking to his specific conduct, just generally that it is, yes.
BLUMENTHAL: If Michael Flynn is prosecuted for any of these crimes, isn't it possible that the vice president of the United States might be a witness?
YATES: I guess it would depend on the crime.
BLUMENTHAL: If it were a false statement to the FBI about his conversations with the Russians, wouldn't the vice president potentially be called as a witness to corroborate that false statement?
YATES: You know, I would be -- certainly that's possible, but I would be speculating how such criminal prosecution would come together. BLUMENTHAL: So where I'm going is, the need for a special prosecutor
is because officials at the highest level who are responsible for appointing the deputy attorney general, the United States attorney general are all potentially witnesses and they are even targets, correct?
BLUMENTHAL: And so a special counsel, in order to hold those government officials or others responsible, really has to be independent, correct?
YATES: Well, Department of Justice lawyers pride themselves on being able to be independent regardless of whether they're appointed as a special counsel.
BLUMENTHAL: But the ultimate decision whether or not to prosecute, for the sake of appearance as well as in reality, should be made by someone who is unquestionably independent, objective, and impartial?
YATES: Senator, I absolutely understand your concerns here. But the fact of the matter is, is that particularly as someone who just departed from the Department of Justice, I'm just not going to wade into whether or not they should have a special counsel or an independent counsel in this matter. I don't really think they need the formers telling them how to do their jobs.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, I'm going to be very unfair to you and just ask you, as a private citizen, wouldn't you like to see a special counsel appointed under these circumstances?
YATES: Not going to go there either, Senator.
BLUMENTHAL: As an expert witness...
... for our committee, I'll qualify you as an expert if Judge Graham allows me to do it. Let me...
GRAHAM: You'll have to pay her.
BLUMENTHAL: Let me just close by asking you, my colleague, Senator Franken, made reference to warnings given to the -- given by President Obama to then-President-elect Trump about hiring Michael Flynn.
That is a public report from The New York Times, in fact, of today, which I ask to be entered into the record. And I also ask to be entered into the record, the February 9th report from The Washington Post, I believe there has been a reference to it.
Without that published report, and without the free press telling us a lot of what went on, Michael Flynn might still be sitting in the White House as national security adviser, because by January 30th, you were forced to resign, correct? You were fired.
YATES: Yes, I was fired.
BLUMENTHAL: So nobody was around to tell the White House, as you said, that our national security was in danger.
YATES: Well, there were still the career officials in the National Security Division who had been working with me on this matter that were there and were certainly conversant in the facts.
BLUMENTHAL: But the ultimate decision to go to the White House was yours?
YATES: Yes, it was.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
GRAHAM: Senator Hirono.
HIRONO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In spite of the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to convince all of us that there is nothing to see here with regard to Russian interference with our 2016 election, the Trump team's connections to these efforts, we need to get to the bottom of this.
And so I thank Chair Graham and Ranking Member Whitehouse for these hearings. And in fact I just had a number of town hall meetings in Hawaii this past weekend. And hundreds of people came, and believe me, they care that we get to the bottom of this.
The Trump administration blames President Obama for failing to suspend General Flynn's clearance. And in fact in a press conference today, Sean Spicer said: "Everyone in the government goes through the same process."
And he also said: "There's no difference of a security clearance once it's issued. And basically as far as this administration is concerned, nothing more needed to be done" by them regarding General Flynn's clearance.
Director Clapper, isn't it true that the CIA has a separate vetting process for National Security Council appointees? And in fact the press is reporting today that General Flynn never completed that process. Can you enlighten us?
CLAPPER: I can't speak to specifics of how it was done with General Flynn. I know what I went through as a political appointee twice in two -- in a Republican and a Democratic administration.
And the vetting process for either a political appointee or someone working in the White House is far, far more invasive and far, far more thorough than a standard TS/SCI clearance process. But I don't know what process was used in General Flynn's case. And
nor did I have access to his complete investigatory file, so it's very difficult for me to speculate on what was in it and what action, if any, was taken by the White House.
HIRONO: Well, according to Sean Spicer, that he had a clearance from the Obama administration, and that was it. And this administration had no further responsibilities.
So let me go on. Others of my colleagues have mentioned, and you yourself, Mr. Clapper, said that RT is a Russian mouthpiece to spread propaganda. And, of course, we know that General Flynn attended a gala hosted by -- or a 10th anniversary gala for RT in December, 2015, where he sat next President Putin and got paid over $33,000 for that.
Mr. Clapper, given the conversation that Ms. Yates provided to the White House regarding -- and this is during the January 26th and 27th timeframe -- regarding General Flynn, should he have sat in on the following discussions?
On January 28th, he participated in an hour-long call, along with President Trump, to President Putin. And on February 11th, he participated in a discussion with Prime Minister Abe and the president at Mar-a-Lago to discuss North Korea's missile tests.
Should he -- given the -- the information that had already been provided by Ms. Yates, should he have participated in these two very specific instances?
CLAPPER: Well, I -- you know, I can't, it's difficult for me to answer, Because I'm not -- I -- I was out at that...
HIRONO: Well, let's say you were in.
CLAPPER: ... point. I -- I don't -- as just a standard comment, a -- a general comment, I -- I don't think it -- it was a -- I don't think it was a good practice. Put it that way.
HIRONO: So I think this comports with some of the concerns that have been raised about the appropriateness or adequacy of the Trump administration's vetting process with regard to various disclosures by other members of his administration, and, as I mentioned, the administration's continuing efforts to downplay Russia's interference in our elections.
After General Flynn resigned on February 13th, on February 15th, President Trump tweeted that Flynn is a, quote, "wonderful man," and, quote, "it's very, very unfair what's happened to General Flynn," unquote.
So, Mr. Clapper, is this the kind of statement that would be made by a president aware of serious security concerns about his former national security adviser?
CLAPPER: Well, I -- I'm loath to comment on the tweets. I -- you know, that's -- that was, I -- I suppose, an honest expression of how he felt.
HIRONO: Well, does this sound like somebody who knew that there were serious security concerns about it, that he would say it was very, very unfair, and that -- that Mr. Flynn is a wonderful man? Maybe I should just...
CLAPPER: Well, I don't...
HIRONO: ... and people can draw their own conclusions.
CLAPPER: ... I -- I don't know what information was conveyed to the president. I -- I have no insight there. So I don't know to -- the extent to which he had an understanding of what the former attorney -- acting attorney general...
CLAPPER: ... conveyed. I don't know how much of that made its way to the president.
HIRONO: Yes, precisely that -- that is a concern that I would have, that it sounds like perhaps the president was not aware.
And in fact, going on, in March, the president tweeted that Flynn should be given immunity -- Flynn resigned on February 13 -- and that the FBI's investigation is, quote, "a witch hunt."
So, I'd like to ask both of you, should these tweets -- these kinds of tweets and other similar assertions by the president have any influence at all on the FBI's ongoing investigation into Russian interference in our elections and team Trump's connections to these efforts?
CLAPPER: Well, it shouldn't, and I'm confident it won't.
HIRONO: I hope so.
I have a question about the Foreign Agents Registration Act violations -- FARA. A number of Trump administration officials are belatedly disclosing and registering their work on behalf of foreign governments under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, some of which raised serious counter-intelligence concerns.
I asked Director Comey about these concerns last week. Ms. Yates, what are the consequences for White House staffers who fail to disclose their foreign contacts on their security clearance forms?
YATES: Well, there can be a variety of ramifications. You can lose your security clearance. You can lose your job, or, in certain circumstances, you can be criminally prosecuted.
HIRONO: Is it up to the Department of Justice or the FBI to pursue these kinds of allegations against staffers who do not disclose appropriately? YATES: Again, it would all depend on the circumstances of the non-
disclosure, whether it was willful, and what the circumstances were of the conduct underlying that. So it would really -- it's going to be very fact-specific.
HIRONO: I agree that it should be fact-specific, but considering the allegations, though, I -- I hope that either the FBI or the Department of Justice is pursuing an investigation into these matters.
Again, under what circumstances would the Department of Justice decide to bring charges against someone for violating FARA? So you -- you said, Ms. Yates, it would depend on the facts...
YATES: Right (ph).
HIRONO: ... of the -- of the situation.
If the president or someone close to him knew that a White House official failed to disclose work on behalf of a foreign government, and chose to cover that up. Again, can you reiterate again the possible repercussions to this person?
YATES: To the individual?
HIRONO: To the individual. Let's say that the allegations are proven true.
YATES: That they fail to disclose their activity and that the President covered it up, or the individual did?
HIRONO: Let's say the person knew or the administration knew and then the individual also covered it up?
YATES: Well cover ups are bad. They (inaudible) usually as evidence of intent and so that's something that we look at in making determinations about whether it's something that should be criminally prosecuted. But again, you know it's going to be very fact specific. It's hard to give you a hard fast answer.
HIRONO: And if the administration -- either knew or should have known --I'm sorry.
HIRONO: Thank you very much, you've been very ...
GRAHAM: We're going to do a second round, but we're going to do it quickly and we're going to do four minute rounds and there's light at the end of the tunnel. We got a vote at 5:30, so I promise you you're going to get out of here pretty quick. But I know Senators have questions, starting with me and I'm going to enforce the four minutes to myself.
General Clapper, during your investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a trump business interest in Russia gave you concern? CLAPPER: Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence communities assessment.
CLAPPER: I'm sorry?
GRAHAM: At all, any time?
CLAPPER: Senator Graham I can't comment on that because that impacts an investigation.
GRAHAM: It wasn't enough to put into the report.
CLAPPER: That's correct.
GRAHAM: OK. Ms. Yates the rule of law, you cannot allow people to leak classified information because they want a particular outcome, that's not the rule of law, is that correct?
GRAHAM: Then I think you both agree with that concept. Did Mr. McCan(ph), in your view Ms. Yates, ask reasonable questions about your concerns?
YATES: I didn't really have a judgment about whether they were reasonable or unreasonable. But I do think that Mr. McCan (ph) was trying to get to the bottom, in our discussion of what had happened with General ...
GRAHAM: And he wanted to actually see the information that you were talking about?
YATES: He indicated he did. Again, I don't have any way of knowing what happened after that.
GRAHAM: But he said he wanted to and you tried to set that up.
YATES: That's right.
GRAHAM: OK. Now about surveillance, this is very important, an American citizen cannot be surveilled in the United States for colluding with a foreign government unless you have a warrant. Is that a true statement of the law?
YATES: That's right.
GRAHAM: Is it fair to say that incidental collection occurs, even in the united States?
YATES: That's correct as well, yes.
GRAHAM: OK. So there's two situations that we would have found out what General Flynn said to the Russian bastard. If there was a FISA warrant focused on him, was there? YATES: You asking?
GRAHAM: Yes, either one of you.
YATES: Again I think you know I'm not going to answer whether there was a FISA warrant. Nor am I even going to talk about whether General Flynn was talking to the Russians.
CLAPPER: Oh I have to obviously going to go along with ...
YATES: Well if he wasn't talking to the Russians, we've had a hearing for no good reason. So clearly he's talking to the Russians and we know about it. So if there is no FISA warrant, and I'm going to find out about this by the way. The other way that we knew what he was talking about, the Russia (inaudible) was incidentally surveilled. So those were the two options. Do we know who unmasked the conversation between the Russian ambassador and General Flynn? Was there unmasking in this situation?
CLAPPER: Are you looking at me?
GRAHAM: Yes sir.
CLAPPER: I don't know.
GRAHAM: Do you Ms. Yates?
YATES: I can't speak to this specific situation. But can I try to clarify one point on this unmasking thing?
GRAHAM: Very quickly.
YATES: OK I'll try to do it quickly. As a consumer of intelligence I would -- for example, I would receive intelligence reports from various agencies.
GRAHAM: I get that, no.
YATES: Now often times the names are already unmasked by the intelligence agencies ...
GRAHAM: The bottom line here is I want to know how it got to the Washington Post. Somebody had to have access to the information and they gave it to the Washington Post, is that a fair statement?
YATES: That's right. That's what it looks like to me.
GRAHAM: Is that right General Clapper?
GRAHAM: And it was -- neither one of you did it?
YATES: That's right. CLAPPER: That's right.
GRAHAM: How many people can request unmasking of American citizen in our government, General Clapper, how many?
CLAPPER: I don't have an exact number. It's I think fairly limited, because it's a -- normally fairly high level officials.
GRAHAM: How did you know that General Flynn was talking to the Russian's who told you?
YATES: And I can't reveal that in an open setting. But what I was trying to say was, is that often times we receive intelligence reports where the name of the American citizen is already unmasked, and it's unmasked by the intel agency because, not based on anybody's request, but because the name of that citizen is essential.
GRAHAM: Is that the situation here?
YATES: I can't -- Senator, I cannot...
GRAHAM: Thank you. My four minutes is up. Thank you both. But I want to know the answer to these questions.
WHITEHOUSE: Thanks, again, Chairman.
Two things. One, there are multiple levels of security clearances, and they're issued by different agencies, correct? So having one from DoD doesn't necessarily make you good for all positions and places.
CLAPPER: It does not.
WHITEHOUSE: And in DoD operates clearances at multiple levels, correct?
CLAPPER: Right. But I think the key point here is that, as I indicated earlier, the requirements for a TS/SCI versus the requirements for occupying a sensitive position in the White House as a part of the National Security Council or...
WHITEHOUSE: Way higher than for a retired general?
CLAPPER: Well, exactly. And as I can attest, much more invasive and aggressive than a standard TS/SCI.
WHITEHOUSE: Now in terms of compromise tradecraft, if you have somebody, and you have them compromised, it's pretty standard compromise tradecraft to ask them to do some little thing for you under the threat of having the compromising information disclosed. And if you succeed, you now have two things on them. And you work it
that way to get somebody more and more enmeshed in compromise until they're more or less owned by the intelligence agency. Is that a fair description of how you can develop compromise through regular tradecraft?
CLAPPER: Yes, yes, yes.
WHITEHOUSE: OK. Just want to make that sure, because we're talking a lot about it here.
Last thing, my list. So, I went through the list, it looked like propaganda, fake news, trolls, and bots. We can all agree from the IC report that those were in fact used in the 2016 election.
Hacking and theft of political information, the hack into the DNC, into the Podesta e-mails, I think we can all agree that that's a yes.
Timed leaks of damaging material. That appears very strongly to be a yes, because of the timing of the release, smack after the "Access Hollywood" release.
I believe that the answers were correct, no, as to in-country assassination and political violence by the Russians here in the United States. Would you both agree with that?
CLAPPER: I don't think we turned up any evidence of that.
WHITEHOUSE: OK. And controlling investment in key economic sectors for leverage, it seems that our economy is probably a little too big for that and there was no evidence of that in the IC report either, correct?
CLAPPER: That's correct.
WHITEHOUSE: So, the question of shady business and financial ties that not only start out as bribery, perhaps, or as highly favorable deals, secret deals with Russians, but that in turn can then turn into compromise?
CLAPPER: It could.
WHITEHOUSE: And it's not just the carrot of I'm continuing to bribe you, at some point you have a stick over the individual of, I'm going to out the deal that we have unless you do this, correct?
CLAPPER: That's classic kompromat.
WHITEHOUSE: And we do not yet know the extent to which that has played a role in the 2016 Russian election hack, correct?
CLAPPER: I don't.
WHITEHOUSE: And in terms of corrupting and compromising politicians, same, we don't know the full extent of whether or not politicians have been corrupted and compromised? CLAPPER: I certainly don't -- I did not and don't.
WHITEHOUSE: So, if we were to go down this, yes, yes, yes, no, no, question mark, question mark, would be our tally at the end. Are we agreed on that?
Anything else, Ms. Yates?
YATES: Not from me, sir.
WHITEHOUSE: Terrific. Thank you.
I yield back my nine seconds.
GRAHAM: You're a trend-setter.
GRASSLEY: Mr. Clapper, you said yes when I asked you if you ever unmasked a Trump associate or a member of Congress. But I forgot to ask, which was it? Was it a Trump associate, a member of Congress, or both?
CLAPPER: Over my time as DNI, I think the answer was on rare occasion, both. And, again, Senator, just to make the point here, my focus was on the foreign target and at the foreign target's behavior in relation to the U.S. person.
GRASSLEY: OK. How many instances were there, or was there just one?
CLAPPER: I can only recall one.
GRASSLEY: Could you provide...
CLAPPER: It could have been more. And the best accounting of this would be in accordance with the procedure, the collecting agency, and that would be a better source of records than the top of my head.
Could you provide us more details in a classified setting?
CLAPPER: I could.
Miss Yates, the same question -- you said, I don't know what you said to answer my question about if you were involved in any unmasking, were you involved?
YATES: No, I've never asked for anyone to be unmasked.
Senator Graham, both you and I, and maybe other people, have been said that we need a classified setting to get some answers here. I assume you're going to pursue that?
GRAHAM: Yes, sir.
Let's see, I got time for a couple more questions, I believe.
Regardless of any disagreements that we have about allegations of collusion, the fact that Russia tried to meddle in our democracy is obviously a front to all Americans. We have to punish Russia, and we have to deter all nations from these shenanigans.
Do you two believe that the government's response, so far, has been enough to deter future attacks of this kind? And if not, what else would you think we should be doing?
Miss Yates, would you start out, please?
YATES: I think they're coming back, and we have to do a whole lot more, both to harden our election systems, our state election systems, to ensure that folks out there know when they're looking at news feeds, that it may not be real news that they're reading.
I think that we have to do more to deter the Russians, and it wouldn't hurt to prosecute a few folks, but I don't think we should kid ourselves, that we'll be able to prosecute our way out of this problem.
GRASSLEY: OK, Mr. Clapper.
CLAPPER: Well, as much as I love Congressional Hearings, I think there is a useful purpose served. Because I think the most important thing that needs to be done here, is educate the electorate as to what the Russians' objective is, and the tactics and techniques, and procedures that they've employed and will continue to employ, and I predict it will be against all the parties.
And so, I think education of the public is the most important thing we can do in this hearing, grudgingly though, I admit it, serves that purpose to the extent that this can be shared openly.
GRASSLEY: So, your . . .
CLAPPER: I do think as well, there needs to be more done in the way of sanctions to the Russians, or any other government, that attempts to interfere in our election process.
GRASSLEY: I'm done.
GRAHAM: thank you very much. Senator Klobuchar?
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
And we thank you, both, for being here again.
I think Senator Graham asked if you would want to come back, then Director Clapper, and we're very glad that you're here. So, when I asked my questions before, I asked about this general fact,
if a high-ranking national security official is caught on tape, with a foreign official, saying one thing in private, and then says something in public that's different, and if that's material for blackmail. And you, both, said that it was.
Can you give me an examples, just from your experience, Director Clapper, of when Russians have used, for one of better words, sex, lies, and videotape against people as blackmail?
CLAPPER: Well, I don't have a lot of direct knowledge external to Russia, this is a classical technique going back to Soviet era, that they would use to co-opt, compromise political opponents. And of course, you know, the current administration in Russia is even more aggressive than that, where they just blot out people for being opposition.
So, there are examples of that, I don't have them off the top of my head, but I have read, and seen it, particularly during the Soviet era, internal to the Soviet Union, that this was a common practice.
KLOBUCHAR: What about our election infrastructure, as we move forward? As you said, one major thing we need to do, is to educate the public.
And I'm very concerned, while we have different states, have different election equipment on the ranking on rules, and we're working on a Bill on this. How important is that to protect the integrity of our election equipment?
CLAPPER: It's quite important and speaking now as a private citizen, not my former capacity,
I do think that our election apparatus should be considered critical infrastructure, and should have the protections that are tended to that. A lot of states pushed back when Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, engaged with state election officials about having that designation and having the federal government interfere in -- in their election process. But as a citizen, I'd be concerned with doing all we can to secure that apparatus part of the -- attendant (ph) to the intelligence community assessment that we put out. DHS put out a paper on best practices for -- as an advisory on how to secure election apparatuses in -- at the state and local level. KLOBUCHAR: Very good. Do you think we're doing a good enough job
now, back to the propaganda issue, in educating our citizens about this?
CLAPPER: No, we're not. And the other thing we don't do well enough is the counter messaging.
KLOBUCHAR: And how would you suggest we could improve that?
CLAPPER: I would be for -- I have been an advocate for a USIA (ph) on steroids. I felt that way in terms of countering the message from ISIS, who is very sophisticated at conveying messages and proselytizing and recruiting people. Our efforts to counter message are too fragmented in my -- in my own opinion. That's all I'm saying here. I -- I would seriously consider the notion of a, as I say, a USIA (ph) on steroids not only for the...
KLOBUCHAR: What would that mean exactly?
CLAPPER: I'm sorry?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, someone that we could -- we could message or counter message, and our efforts to counter violent extremist ideology, particularly that from ISIS, who are very skilled at this and we -- I don't think we do, as a nation, we do a good enough job. I think counter messaging the Russians, giving them some of their own medicine much more aggressively than we've done now. And I would hasten to add that is -- should not be tagged onto the intelligence community. It needs to be a separate entity from the intelligence community, something the I.C. would support, but should be separate from that.
KLOBUCHAR: Mr. Chair, just one last question. Ms. Yates, you brought a lawyer with you, a career lawyer, to the meeting at the White House. Is that right?
YATES: Yes, that's right.
KLOBUCHAR: About when you were giving these warnings about the knowledge you had on General Flynn. Is that normal practice? Why did you do that?
YATES: Well, this was a person who was the career lawyer who was supervising this matter and we thought that it was important. First of all, she had been the one who was most intimately familiar with it, but secondly, we knew that my tenure was going to be short and wanted to make sure that there was continuity there and that...
KLOBUCHAR: You just didn't know it was going to be that short.
YATES: I didn't.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Thank you.
(LAUGHTER) GRAHAM: I think the vote is on, so I hate to change, but let's do three minutes.
KENNEDY: I can be very quick.
GRAHAM: Yes, sir.
KENNEDY: Mr. Clapper, does Mr. Putin have any assets in the United States?
CLAPPER: I don't know the answer to the question.
KENNEDY: Who would know that?
CLAPPER: Well, some component in the intelligence community might know it or the FBI, but I don't know.
KENNEDY: Do you know if any of Mr. Putin's friends might have assets in the United States that are being held for Mr. Putin?
CLAPPER: That's a possibility, yes.
KENNEDY: Who would know that? Same person?
CLAPPER: I'm sorry?
KENNEDY: Who would know that? Same person?
CLAPPER: I would guess the FBI.
KENNEDY: OK. If the intelligence community and the attorney general knew all this information about Mr. Flynn, how did he get a security clearance?
CLAPPER: Knew what about Mr. Flynn?
KENNEDY: Well, that he had had a conversation with the Russian ambassador about sanctions.
CLAPPER: Well, that was late -- that was the 29th of December or so, whenever that -- whenever that -- as reported in the media when that took place.
KENNEDY: January 19th, I think, the president was sworn in, 17th, something like that. How did he get a security clearance?
CLAPPER: Well, he was a security clearance -- had one for a long time. He's a career military intelligence officer. I don't know the specifics of when his -- when his fell due. The system is every five years -- the current system, every five years, you're supposed to get a periodic reinvestigation. I don't know the details of that. It would probably be done by his old agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, but...
KENNEDY: But don't you have to get some additional double secret security clearance to serve in the White House? CLAPPER: Well, yes, you do. And as I indicated before...
KENNEDY: Can i ask you how he got one...
CLAPPER: ... the process is done -- I don't know how it's done in this administration.
CLAPPER: But my own knowledge of how it was done when I served in the Bush administration and again in the Obama administration, there's an extensive vetting process by the FBI.
KENNEDY: OK. Let me stop you because I've only got 50 seconds.
Ms. Yates, are there any reasonable arguments that can be made in defense of President Trump's executive order?
YATES: I don't believe that there are reasonable legal arguments that are grounded in truth that can be made in defense of his argument that the travel ban was not intended to have an impact, a religious impact, and to disfavor Muslims.
KENNEDY: So you believe that the arguments made by the lawyers who are now defending the executive order are unreasonable?
YATES: I believe that the Department of Justice has a responsibility to uphold the law and to always speak the truth, particularly when it's about something as fundamental as this executive order was, that deals with religious freedom.
But let me say this. I have tremendous respect for the career men and women of the Department of Justice, including the lawyers in the civil division who are handling this. But their obligation was different than mine. They must make an argument if they can make a reasonable legal argument. As acting attorney general, my responsibility was broader than that and I had to look beyond the confines of the face of the E.O. to look at the president's statements and to look at other factors to determine what was the actual intent here, and that was the basis for my decision.
KENNEDY: And for the record, different travel ban.
GRAHAM: Yeah, there's a -- the first order was withdrawn. There's a second one out there.
BLUMENTHAL: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Yates, so far, the concerns you expressed about the constitutionality of these executive orders have been upheld by the courts, correct?
YATES: That's right. BLUMENTHAL: Second, Director Clapper, on the issue of possible use of
the far right websites by the Russians, you were asked earlier whether you have any knowledge about that potential cooperation or involvement. Do you have independent knowledge of the use of those far right websites?
CLAPPER: I don't. I don't have, at least off the top of my head, specific knowledge or insight into that connection. Could have been, I just don't know that directly.
BLUMENTHAL: But you made reference to published reports. You said, I think, you knew about it from what you read about in the newspapers.
CLAPPER: Well, that's a specific reference to what happened in -- occurred in France.
BLUMENTHAL: Correct. And the same tactics that were used most recently in France were also used or at least reportedly used in this country?
BLUMENTHAL: And I'd like to put in the record one public report, there are probably others, a McClatchy report of March 20th, which begins with the lead, "federal investigators are examining whether far right news sites played any role last years in the Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories, some fictional, that favored Donald Trump's presidential bid." It quotes tow people familiar with the inquiry and it goes on to mention, "Among those sites, Breitbart News and Infowars."
Mr. Chairman, if this report could be entered into the record.
BLUMENTHAL: Do you have knowledge, Ms. Yates, of that federal investigation?
YATES: I don't, and if I did, I couldn't tell you about it.
BLUMENTHAL: I thought that might be your answer.
Finally, you said, Ms. Yates, that we're not going to prosecute our way out of the Russian continued attack on this country. But putting Americans in prison if they cooperate, collude, aid and abet or otherwise assist in that illegality might send a very strong deterrent message, correct?
YATES: I expect that it would, yes.
BLUMENTHAL: And there are indeed criminal penalties existing on the books, we don't need new laws, which involve criminality and potential criminal prosecution for those acts, correct?
YATES: Yes, that's right.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
GRAHAMN: Thank you all. We're at the end of the day and you've been great. I think the public is better educated, at least I hope, about what Russia did. Seems to be bipartisan consensus that Russia tried to interfere with our election. We have some differences in other places.
But just some housekeeping here, you will provide to the committee if you could, Mr. Clapper -- I know you're a private citizen now, but if you could help us to determine the pool of people that can request unmasking, we'd appreciate it some later date. When it comes to (inaudible) collection on 2016 campaigns, I'm a little confused, but I think we found at least one occasion where that did happen. You made a request for unmasking on a Trump associate and maybe a member of Congress? Is that right, Mr. Clapper?
GRAHAM: OK. Do we know any others off the top of your head of any other candidate on either side of the aisle?
CLAPPER: Well, I don't -- there could have been other requests -- unmasking requests that I...
GRAHAM: But there's a way to find that out.
GRAHAM: OK, good.
CLAPPER: And the best way to do it would be to the original collection agency...
GRAHAM: Right, to find out who requested what.
Finally, the current deputy attorney general, do you know him, Ms. Yates?
GRAHAM: Do you have confidence in him?
YATES: Yes, I do.
GRAHAM: Thank you all.
WHITEHOUSE: Final comment?
WHITEHOUSE: During the last hearing, we had the author of the Kremlin playbook as one of our witnesses and we had the very well-regarded Kenneth Weinstein as one of our witnesses, and they both agreed that the United States is leaving itself vulnerable to this kind of influence if we continue to allow shell corporations to proliferate without a way for law enforcement to figure out who the beneficial owners are.
So I mention that because Chairman Grassley and I are working on a piece of legislation to help solve that, but I think it's very important in this area and I just wanted to flag it and express to Chairman Grassley my appreciation for his bipartisan cooperation on that front, and of course, my appreciation to Chairman Graham for his work to make this hearing a success and so interesting and meaningful.
GRAHAM: Thank you both. The hearing is adjourned.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There you have it. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We just heard very, very gripping testimony from the former acting attorney general of the United States Sally Yates and former director of national intelligence James Clapper. They appeared before a Senate judiciary panel for more than three hours, looking into Russia's meddling in the U.S. presidential election and contacts with Trump associates.
Yates testified she warned the White House on two separate occasions that the then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had lied about his contact with Russia and was compromised and could potentially be subject to Russian blackmail.
Yates and Clapper were both asked about leaks in the Russian probe, and both denied having revealed any classified information to journalists.
Let's bring in our correspondents, our political, legal, and counterterrorism specialists.
And Jeffrey Toobin, let me start with you. You were listening so very, very carefully to the former acting attorney general and the former director of national intelligence.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Think about this, Wolf. There has never been a conversation like the one Sally Yates had with Mr. McGahn in all of American history. She goes to the White House, new president in office, and says, "Your national security adviser can be blackmailed by the Russians." The next day she goes back and says it again. And what happens after that?
BLITZER: Hold on one second. Jeffrey, hold on one second.
BLITZER: Hold that thought. Lindsey Graham is speaking outside of the hearing with our own Manu Raju.
GRAHAM: ... surveillance works. I want to know who unmasked, if there was an unmasking of General Flynn. The rule of law requires a certain process. You can't take classified information, give it to the press because you want a particular outcome.
So I want to know everything about the Russia involvement in 2016. But I also want to know what kind of system do we have when it comes to following people? Because I think it is rife for abuse that a political person could, if they're in the right situation, asks for an unmasking of intelligence gathering and use that information politically.
I think it's clear to me that Russia tried to undermine our election, so there's two fronts for me. What did Russia do? Was there any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and I want to know anything and everything about that.
Secondly, I want to know what kind of system we have in place in America that allows us to incidentally collect on American citizens, political figures, and how that information can -- who can obtain it and what they can do with it. So those are two fronts. This is a good hearing. I think you've got bipartisanship that the Russians tried to interfere.
I hope we'll have as much interest on what happened in terms of the leaks to "The Washington Post," because that's a precedent you can't allow to go forward. People cannot take...
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, for 18 days, the White House kept Michael Flynn employed, even though Sally Yates warned them about him possibly being compromised on multiple occasions.
GRAHAM: To me I'm not worried about it taking 18 days. He asked questions about, you know, what do you have? Why are you concerned? Why should you be concerned about White House people lying to each other? She gave a really good answer, because the Russians could compromise Lieutenant General Flynn. He says, can you share with me the information that brings you to that conclusion?
I think he asked really good questions. She left. All do I know is that General Flynn got fired. To me, that was the responsible way forward. Should it have been 15 days, should it have been one day, to me, that's not the concern.
RAJU: But he could have access to classified --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Michael Flynn was compromised?
GRAHAM: I think she makes a very good case that anybody in that situation could be compromised. So Sally Yates did the right thing. I thought the White House General Counsel asked the right questions and put a process in place that led us to General Flynn being dismissed, and it was the right decision to dismiss him. And I've got to go.
RAJU: But, Senator, one more.
GRAHAM: I got to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So there you heard Lindsey Graham, the Chairman of this Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee applauding what he heard from Sally Yates, the former Acting Attorney General.
Jeffrey Toobin, I interrupted you. You were making an important point on the historic nature of the Acting Attorney General telling the White House Counsel, you have a big problem with the national security adviser.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Correct. And what happens after she says it twice in two meetings? What happens is nothing. Absolutely nothing until "The Washington Post" reports that Flynn has been compromised, and only then is Michael Flynn fired.
If it weren't for the leaks, which the Republicans keep trying to change the subject, trying to make this hearing about leaks, if it weren't for the leaks, Michael Flynn would probably still be national security adviser today. And that's what I think is extremely chilling, not the fact that some decent Americans and some great journalists at "The Washington Post" did their job.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, you just heard Lindsey Graham, the Chairman of the Subcommittee, say, yes, the Russians got involved inappropriately in trying to impact this election. But he said he's equally concerned about the leaks, about the unmasking of Michael Flynn's.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And that's been, you know, the division here, Republicans -- not Lindsey Graham, but some Republicans -- seem more concerned about the leaks than about General Flynn's behavior.
And I think one other thing we learned at this hearing was that, you know, Sean Spicer had said that Sally Yates had given them a, quote, "heads up." It seems to me that what we learned today was that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on January 24th, and then there were two subsequent meetings with Sally Yates and the White House Counsel on January 26th and the 27th.
She was not giving him a heads up. This was a red flag. That was not just, oh, by the way, I think you kind of ought to know about this. This was that Flynn's underlying conduct was what she called problematic, that the Vice President and others were entitled to know that the information they were telling the American public was not true, and the Russians knew that General Flynn was lying, so he was in a compromised position.
They knew about his phone calls, they knew what he was telling his superiors, and so they could potentially blackmail him. Then when she went back, again, she didn't back down. And so this wasn't just a heads up, and clearly the White House Counsel was interested enough in this to invite her back.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the biggest questions I have from watching the testimony is whether the White House took her up on the offer of looking at the classified materials about Michael Flynn and the conversation he had with the Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Because she said, on the day actually she was fired by President Trump over her refusal to back the travel ban, that she called Don McGahn and said, all right, we've worked out the logistics. You can come over and look at these classified materials to show you why I am telling you and why I'm so concerned about why I believe he's compromised.
What also --
BLITZER: She didn't know the answer, though, whether they actually took up that offer and went over these.
BROWN: She did not, and so that's why that's still a looming question.
BORGER: Because she was fired, yes.
BROWN: Right, she was fired. But what we do know is there was an 18- day gap between the initial warning from Sally Yates and that "Washington Post" report and then, of course, his subsequent dismissal from the White House. And so there's still the big question, what happened in those 18 days?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, a couple of things. I think that it's just as important for what she said today is how she conducted herself during the hearing.
[17:49:59] She came across incredibly credible to the point where we did just see the Chairman of the Subcommittee, Lindsey Graham, say that she did the right thing. And she was very careful not to the give too much information out where, perhaps, she could be accused of revealing classified information. And having, quite frankly, Mr. Clapper off as your wingman, to back up a lot of what you're saying, I think, was incredibly powerful.
But two things that were not said today that I think were just as important to what was said, when Lindsey Graham asked Clapper about, was he concerned about Donald Trump's Russian business interests, and he asked him to further clarify it, and then Mr. Clapper said, I can't comment on that because of an ongoing investigation. That, itself, raised a red flag.
And I also do think that when Sally Yates was asked about the issue of collusion, was there collusion, do you think, between Trump officials and Russia? And she said that would require me to reveal classified information. So while we didn't actually get specific information, those answers are -- (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: Let me play the clip. All right. Here is the exchange on the question involving Trump's Russian business interests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: General clapper, during your investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Not in the course of the preparation of the intelligence community assessment.
CLAPPER: I'm sorry?
GRAHAM: At all, any time.
CLAPPER: Senator Graham, I can't comment on that because that impacts an investigation.
GRAHAM: It wasn't enough to put into the report?
CLAPPER: That's correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Rebecca, that is significant answer he gave right there.
REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: It is. It is very vague, so we don't totally know what this means. Senator Graham was asking about the broadest possible time range here. He said, was this ever a concern for you, at the time that Clapper was in position as director of intelligence, so this creates more questions.
It leaves us with more questions about what could he possibly mean, what business ties is he referring to. And we don't know because there is this ongoing investigation.
BLITZER: Because he could have simply said no, and he didn't say no.
BERG: He could have simply said no.
BLITZER: Now, let me bring in Phil Mudd, who is listening. Like all of us, we were all riveted for these three hours-plus of Q&A with these two witnesses. What did you think?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I thought there was one piece that was particularly significant. We've heard the White House distance themselves for a long time from General Flynn. And we heard Sean Spicer, as Gloria said earlier, use the phrase, I forget what it was, but suggesting that this was a modest interaction, a heads up.
Let me tell you something. Going to the White House twice, once at their request, within the space of 48 hours to indicate that there is an FBI investigation under way related to counter intelligence involving one of your major adversaries and your national security adviser is embroiled in that, that's not a heads up. That's a serious conversation.
And I think the take away from this, despite what Lindsey Graham said, is, what happened in 18 days? I can give you a guess of what was going on in the White House during those days, but, boy, that is serious interaction. That's not a heads up.
BORGER: Well, and you know, Wolf, the question that Don McGahn asked, and this goes to what Phil is saying, in the second meeting, the White House Counsel asked her, as she reported, what is the likelihood the Department of Justice would pursue a criminal case against Flynn? And we don't know the answer to that, right?
She did not answer that question. But, Phil, I ask you, is that something that the Justice Department could have been pursuing against him?
MUDD: Sure. I'm sure he is wrapped up in the investigation they started last July, and it's clear what the White House was doing. They're differentiating something that the Department of Justice isn't responsible for, did somebody lie to somebody else in the White House? The Department of Justice is not like the school principal for the United States.
There is this secondary issues that, clearly, the White House Counsel is concerned about -- is a White House official, in this case, General Flynn, going to be embarrassed by a criminal prosecution later on? I'm sure they had to go into President Trump and say, this is not just about whether somebody lied. This is about getting wrapped up in a criminal investigation. At that point, you got to say, how does the guy still have a clearance?
BLITZER: Go ahead.
BROWN: And something that just stuck out to me personally -- I'd like to hear what you all think -- is the fact that Sally Yates said he was interviewed by the FBI at the White House and that he wasn't represented. He didn't have counsel with him according to Sally Yates, which just strikes me as remarkable.
You would think, if White House Counsel Don McGahn was aware that the FBI was going to be interviewing the national security adviser, he would make sure there was some representation in that room with him.
BLITZER: And I'm sure --
BORGER: Well, and nothing --
BLITZER: And what's really important --
BROWN: And so that is what raised another question --
BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on a moment. What is really significant is if he told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in that interview with the FBI because if he didn't, then he's got major problems right now as we all know.
[17:55:02] BLITZER: Coming up, much more on the breaking news. The former Acting Attorney General of the United States testified that she warned the White House that the then national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the Vice President, was compromised, and could be blackmailed by the Russians.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Russian leverage. Revealing testimony by the former Acting Attorney General of the United States fired by President Trump. Sally Yates says she warned the White House that now former national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the Vice President, was compromised, and could be blackmailed by the Russians.
[18:00:07] Presidential warning.