Former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates testified on Wednesday at the Senate Judiciary Committee that former Vice President Joe Biden was at a January 5, 2017 meeting in the Oval Office where Michael Flynn was discussed.
Yates testified that she had not known about Flynn’s conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Yislyak until that meeting, and that the purpose had not been to discuss whether to investigate Flynn, or merely whether to withhold information from him for counterintelligence reasons. Flynn was the incoming National Security Advisor at the time.
Notes taken at the time by then-FBI agent Peter Strzok, and released in June, indicated that Biden suggested Flynn could be investigated for violating the Logan Act, which prevents private citizens from conducting U.S. foreign policy.
Yates said she did not remember all of the details of the January 5 meeting, which was first described by then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice in an email memorandum that she sent to herself as the Obama administration ended.
She confirmed that Biden was there, but could not confirm whether he had brought up the Logan Act. “I don’t remember the Vice President saying much of anything,” she said. She said no formal decision had been made about investigating Flynn for violating the rarely-enforced Logan Act, though she said that she had been skeptical about the idea at the time.
Other important points in Yates’s testimony included:
– Yates testified that she would not sign the warrant application to the FISA court on Carter Page, knowing what she knows today. She acknowledged that the warrant, and the application for its renewal (both of which she had signed), had misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, given that the FBI relied on the “Steele dossier.” However, she said she had trusted the FBI’s analysis — even though she knew something of the dossier’s political origins.
– Yates misstated several facts about the Michael Flynn case and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Yates claimed falsely that Flynn had lied to FBI agents — a conclusion very much in doubt, given new evidence. She also claimed falsely that he pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI; in fact, he only pleaded guilty once. And she claimed, falsely, that Flynn tried to “neuter” Obama administration sanctions on Russia; in fact, he asked Russia not to escalate. In addition, she testified George Papadopoulos had been a Russian intelligence asset — a false claim she had to walk back.
– Yates could not explain why she believed there was a “legitimate” reason for investigating Flynn even after FBI agents recommended dropping the case on January 4, 2017. Yates testified that she believed the FBI agents who made that recommendation had not yet seen the transcripts of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, but there is no evidence to substantiate that claim. (The reason the agents actually gave at the time: FBI leadership wanted the case to continue.)
– Yates admitted that former FBI Director James Comey went “rogue” by sending FBI agents to interview Flynn at the White House without warning White House counsel. She testified that she had been upset at the breach of FBI protocol, and that the Obama administration would not have been treated that way. She seemed not to remember that former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe discouraged Flynn from having an attorney present at the meeting.
– Yates seemed to admit that Flynn was investigated because of policy concerns about the incoming administration. Yates could not provide any evidence of a crime Flynn had committed prior to meeting with the FBI agents in the White House, but said that the investigation was necessary because of concerns that the new administration would reverse the Obama administration’s (belated) policy of confronting Russia — a concern she admitted had to do with foreign policy.
– “The Obama administration was not surveilling the Donald Trump campaign.” Yates pushed back against the idea that surveilling Page (a former campaign adviser) and Papadopoulos (a junior campaign adviser) amounted to surveilling the campaign itself, even though a FISA warrant would have allowed the FBI to look at Page’s previous communications.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, but the Department of Justice has since sought to drop the prosecution, after new evidence emerged to suggest Flynn had been framed — in part to undermine President Donald Trump’s administration.
Biden has said he was at the meeting, and was aware that “they” wanted to investigate Flynn, but that he knew little more.
The key question remains who pushed for the Flynn investigation, and why, despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Author: Joel B. Pollak