Aug 5, 2020
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Transcript August 5: Sally Yates
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 5. She defended the Justice Department’s investigation into former Trump aide Michael Flynn. Read the transcript of the hearing below.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev for free and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Mr. Graham: (00:00)
… our investigation really got started. It was before the Horowitz report about the Mueller Investigation was issued, and I believe much has been learned since May of 2017. And we would like to discuss certain topics with Ms. Yates. My view of Ms. Yates is that she exercised good call and legal judgment in January of 2017, and if people had followed her advice, things might be different today. So I just want to let you know, Ms. Yates, from my point of view, you analyzed the situation fairly correctly and we will get into that later on. So, what’s the purpose of this hearing? It’s to ask questions of Ms. Yates, knowing then what she knows now, would she have signed the Carter Page warrant application?
Mr. Graham: (01:04)
Because in May of 2017, we didn’t know that the Russian sub-source presented evidence to the FBI in the form of a dossier that was full of hearsay and bar talk. That was eventually repudiated by the Russian sub source. We did not know in May of 2017 as clearly as we do now that without the dossier, there’d been no warrant issued against Carter Page. Ms. Yates signed the original warrant application in October and a renewal in January, and after the Horowitz report, we now find there were 17 major violations of procedures and protocols regarding the warrant. And we’ll give Ms. Yates a chance to talk about what she knew and when she knew it.
Mr. Graham: (01:58)
Most importantly to me is this January the 5th meeting between Ms. Yates and the president in the Oval Office, 2017. We didn’t talk about that in May of 2017. That wasn’t part of our discussion. Since May of 2017, we’ve come to learn now that there was a meeting in the Oval Office with Director Comey, Ms. Yates, the president, the vice president, Clapper and Brennan. We now know at the end of that meeting, which was called to brief the president about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and I want everyone to know Ms. Yates included that the Russians did interfere in our election, it was the Russians who hacked into the DNC and stole the Clinton emails, and the Russians were up to no good. That is not the bone of contention with me. What happened during Crossfire Hurricane is very much a concern of mine.
Mr. Graham: (03:12)
So on January the 4th, 2017, we now know that the FBI agents who were investigating General Flynn as part of a counterintelligence investigation had recommended that General Flynn be dropped from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The Crossfire Hurricane team determined that Crossfire Razor, Flynn investigation, was no longer a viable candidate as part of the larger Crossfire Hurricane umbrella case. A review of logical databases did not yield any information on which to predicate further investigated efforts. Now, this is on January the 4th, 2017, where the FBI was making a recommendation through a memo to drop General Flynn from the counterintelligence investigation called Crossfire Hurricane. We now know that Peter Struck told Mr. Barnett, “Wait a minute. The seventh floor at the FBI wants to keep this thing going.” What happened next? A January 5th meeting in the Oval Office. We’ve never had a chance to talk to Ms. Yates about that meeting.
Mr. Graham: (04:44)
What do we know? We know that after the general briefing, there was a pull aside that President Obama asked Comey and Yates to stay behind. And President Obama mentioned the fact that he was aware of an intercept between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador, Mr. Kislyak. Ms. Yates was not aware of that intercept. And she said in her 302, she was so surprised by the information she was learning that she was having a hard time processing it and listening to the conversation at the same time. The president of the United States knew about the surveillance of General Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador, but the number two at the justice department did not know. The question is, who told the president, and did they have the authority to tell the president? Did they go around Ms. Yates and the Department of Justice? If so, why?
Mr. Graham: (06:02)
The bottom line about the January 5th meeting is to find out how the number two at the Department of Justice was unaware of this event, and to the public, why does this matter to you? General Flynn was the incoming national security advisor. The election was over. Trump had won. He had picked his team. General Flynn was going to be the national security advisory placing Susan Rice. Well, what have we learned? That there were intercepts between General Flynn and Mr. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in December. Flynn was talking to Kislyak about Russian sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. Those conversations have been released to the public and he was talking to the Russians about, “Give us a chance to come in. Don’t escalate now. Let’s see if we can work through this.”
Mr. Graham: (06:59)
Here’s what’s so stunning to me. There were people at the FBI considering that a violation of the Logan Act. What is the Logan Act? It is a law that was written in 1799 that prohibits American citizens without permission from the government talking to foreign individuals about differences in policy. So I want everybody in America to understand the way the system works. The transition team of the incoming administration should be talking to foreign leaders and representatives about how the transition will work and about policy differences. I’m going to ask every Senator to think. Have you called a foreign leader in your time in the Senate to express differences of concern about a particular administration policy? Have you violated the Logan Act? I consistently talk to foreign leaders about my differences with Republican and democratic administrations. Have I violated the Logan Act? I called up Israelis and urge them to push back against the Iran Nuclear Agreement because people in America would listen to you. I thought it was a bad deal. Did I violate the Logan Act? I called the Kurds and our allies in Syria, the SDF, and I asked them to rally their allies in Washington to push back against President Trump’s decision to withdraw all of our forces from Syria. Did I violate the Logan Act? No. No one in history of the Department of Justice has ever been prosecuted for violating the Logan Act.
Mr. Graham: (08:53)
Why are we having these hearings? To make sure that laws like this cannot be used as political tools to get people you don’t like. And we need to clear up once and for all how the Logan Act works in America. I dare say that every incoming administration routinely has discussions with foreign leaders about policy differences and how things will be different. Ms. Yates, when she understood what was going on, was very concerned that a prosecution under the Logan Act was being contemplated. The question is, who brought up the Logan Act in the January 5th meeting? Whose great idea was this? Ms. Yates’ 302 interview where she talked about the January 5th meeting with the FBI doesn’t mention the vice president being in the meeting, but what do we now know? We know she was shocked and was having a hard time following the conversation because she was stunned that the president knew about the intercept with Flynn and Kislyak and she did not.
Mr. Graham: (10:05)
What have we learned? We’ve got an email from Susan Rice to herself on inauguration day, and it starts with on January the 5th, the meeting in question, following a briefing by the IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election, President Obama had a brief following conversation with FBI director Jim Comey, deputy attorney general Sally Yates in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present. This is evidence coming from Susan Rice that in the January 5th meeting, the set aside, the vice-president was there. What else have we found since we last talked to Ms. Yates? We found agents notes from Mr. Struck that Comey, the director of the FBI, reported to Agent Struck who was intricately involved in Crossfire Hurricane, and gave him a readout on the meeting. According to Agent Struck’s handwritten notes, it says VP Logan Act. President, these are unusual times. VP, I’ve been unintelligible on the Intel committee for 10 years and I’ve never. President, make sure you look at things and have the right people on it. President, is there anything I shouldn’t be telling transition team? This is the director. Kislyak calls appear legit.
Mr. Graham: (11:59)
Struck is telling us that Comey told him that not only the vice president was in the January 5th set aside meeting, it was the vice president who brought up the Logan Act. We need to find out what happened and who was there, and this is the first step in the journey. And again, why does it matter? It matters a lot to me. We have oversight of the Department of Justice here. How could it be that the number two in the Department of Justice not know about an investigation of the incoming national security advisor and the president did? Who at the FBI, the Department of Justice went around Ms. Yates to tell the president about the investigation? Whose idea was it to suggest that the interaction between Flynn and Kislyak was a violation of the Logan Act? If that’s going to be the standard for this country, you’re destroying the ability to do a transition, and to every senator in this room, we have all violated the Logan Act under that theory. Every one of us has reached out to some foreign government to show differences with the current administration. The Logan Act has never been used for a reason. I think it was used here as a sham reason to find out more about General Flynn, who the Obama administration did not like.
Mr. Graham: (13:32)
So the bottom line is when this is over, we need to fix it. We need to make sure going forward in the next transition, no matter who wins, that you can talk with foreign leaders without being afraid of going to jail. General Flynn wasn’t talking to the Russians about, “Hey, pay my house off. Give me money.” He was talking to the Russians about, “Don’t escalate the sanctions. Fight. Give us a chance to come in and we’ll start over.” My God, if that’s a violation of the law, God help us all. And to her credit, Sally Yates did not want to go down that road. General Flynn was interviewed on January the 24th by the FBI without her permission, against her counsel. She recommended that the Department of Justice notify the current administration about the concerns they had with General Flynn, that the right thing to do would be to call McGahn and the Trump administration and tell them about the concerns they had about General Flynn.
Mr. Graham: (14:51)
The FBI went down a different path. The FBI calls Flynn and suggests to him that you don’t need a lawyer; that we just want to talk to. We want to get it over quickly. Do you mind meeting with us? And when Flynn said, “I’d like my lawyer,” says, “No. If you do that, we have to go way up to the chain. That will slow things down.” And what did Flynn tell McCabe? Well, you’ve got the transcript. You know what I said. There was a violation of the Logan Act. You had the transcript. Why did you need to talk to him? They were going to manufacture a crime, not try to figure out what he did. That’s my view. We’ll see if over time, that matters. I’ll end on this. [inaudible 00:15:34] followed Ms. Yates’ advice and gone to the White House to tell them about their concerns, the way you should have done it, because she said what happened with the FBI was problematic and inconsistent with what should have happened, been a lot of heartache saved in this country.
Mr. Graham: (15:57)
So we’re going to keep pressing on to find out what happened in that January 5th meeting, and we’re going to try to fix this so it never, ever happens again. Folks, I’ll end with this. The Obama administration Department of Justice had one view of the Logan Act. The FBI had another view of the Logan Act. But the thought that the Logan Act could be used against the incoming national security advisor, who was talking to the Russians about different policy, that that could be used as a basis for an interview, that that could be a crime, should shock us all. Because if it can happen to General Flynn, it can happen to everybody on this committee, because we do this all the time. Senator Feinstein.
Senator Feinstein: (16:52)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. As I understand this, today is the second hearing in the chairman’s examination of Crossfire Hurricane. That’s the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference and ties to the Trump campaign. Inspector General Horowitz confirmed after a 19 month investigation, the FBI had a legitimate basis to investigate whether the Trump campaign was involved in Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Specifically, in late July 2016, Australian officials informed the FBI that Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos had advance knowledge that Russia was willing to, quote, “assist the Trump campaign”, end quote, by anonymously releasing dirt on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.
Senator Feinstein: (17:58)
The FBI learned this one week after WikiLeaks had released 20,000 emails that Russia had hacked from the computers of the democratic national committee. Given the circumstances, it was essential that the FBI investigate. Today’s witness, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates has said Russia’s attack on our election required both an investigation and a response. And as Inspector General Horowitz confirmed, the opening of the investigation had nothing to do with reporting from Christopher Steele, the so-called Steele dossier. That counterintelligence investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, eventually became the Mueller Investigation, and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein recently confirmed to this committee that the Steele dossier had nothing to do with the Mueller Investigation either.
Senator Feinstein: (19:03)
Mueller’s investigation, detailed sweeping and systematic Russian interference in the 2016 election. The special counsel determined that the Russian government, quote, “perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome.” End quote. The Mueller Investigation uncovered more than 120 contacts between the Trump campaign and individually tools linked to Russia, revealing that the Trump campaign knew about, welcomed, and expected it would benefit electorally from Russia’s interference. The investigation also established that individuals associated with the Trump campaign repeatedly lied to Congress, the special counsel, and the American people to conceal their contacts with Russia.
Senator Feinstein: (20:03)
We also disagree with President Trump and his allies’ claims about Michael Flynn, namely that Obama officials, including Vice President Biden, unfairly targeted Flynn in order to undermine Trump’s presidency. The facts are well known and not in dispute, but let me review them. In late December 2016, President Obama imposed sanctions to punish Russia for its unprecedented attack on our democracy. That same day, Flynn spoke several times with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Transcripts of the call reveal that Flynn urged Russia not to escalate matters, but to respond to U.S. sanctions in a quote “reciprocal”, end quote, or quote, ” even-keeled”, end quote, manner. Flynn did not express disapproval for Russia’s interference in the election. Instead, he sent a clear message that the incoming administration was not interested in holding Russia accountable, a message that undermined U.S. policy. When Flynn was interviewed about his conversations with Kislyak as part of Crossfire Hurricane, he did not tell the truth. He was charged by special counsel Mueller and pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI. He stated in court under oath that his actions were wrong and that he accepted full responsibility for them.
Senator Feinstein: (21:50)
Despite Flynn’s guilty pleas, this May, Attorney General Barr intervened to dismiss the case over the objection of career prosecutors. Flynn was not treated unfairly. In fact, it appears that he was granted favorable treatment by having the justice department seek to dismiss his case even after he admitted guilt and took responsibility for his actions. I believe this sends the wrong message. It signals that it is acceptable to lie to the FBI, and it raises legitimate questions about whether an ally of the president received special treatment. Given her involvement in the early stages of Mr. Flynn’s case, I hope that our witness today, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates, can shed additional light on why the Flynn investigation and charges were warranted.
Senator Feinstein: (22:57)
Let me just say this. The real question isn’t whether the Logan Act was violated. The question is whether Flynn was acting on his own without the president elect’s knowledge or permission. If so, that was a counterintelligence problem. If, however, the incoming president did know that Flynn was talking to Kislyak, asking Russia not to overreact to U.S. sanctions and suggesting that the incoming administration would not hold Russia accountable, then why was the incoming president not interested in holding Russia accountable for interfering in the 2016 election? I hope that we will use the investigation’s findings to harden our defenses, including addressing Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 election and the president’s unwillingness to denounce foreign interference. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Graham: (24:10)
Thank you. Senator Feinstein. Ms. Yates is appearing here voluntarily, and I appreciate that. She had some reasons she couldn’t be here in person, which I think have been accommodated and were legitimate. And we’ve agreed to the following, that she will answer questions within the following scope: knowledge of the events described in the DOJ OIG report entitled Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of FBI Crossfire Hurricane Investigation, knowledge of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Ms. Yates’ knowledge of the investigation of General Flynn. And we’ll try to honor that. I appreciate her doing this voluntarily. With that understanding, I’d like now to swear Ms. Yates in. I can’t see you. You’re out there somewhere?
Senator Feinstein: (25:08)
Where is she? I think we need to see her, [crosstalk 00:25:13]
Mr. Graham: (25:13)
I think we do too.
Ms. Yates: (25:17)
I think maybe that I have to speak for it to turn. [crosstalk 00:25:21]
Mr. Graham: (25:21)
There you go. Yeah, we see you. All right, could you raise your right hand, please? Do you solemnly swear or affirm that testimony you’re about to five this committee is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but truth, so help you God?
Ms. Yates: (25:31)
Mr. Graham: (25:34)
Thank you. You may make your opening statement, Ms. Yates.
Ms. Yates: (25:38)
Thank you. Chairman Graham, ranking member Feinstein, and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. Now, as some of you know, I was a career prosecutor Department of Justice. I was honored to represent the people of the United States for over 27 years, through five democratic and Republican administrations, and I took very seriously our responsibility to represent the people in a manner that engendered the trust of the public I served. As you know, I’ve testified a number of times about the general topics of today’s hearing, but as Chairman Graham just indicated, he is particularly interested in one specific subject, that being a meeting that occurred in the Oval Office on January 5th of 2017. So, why don’t I just go directly to that?
Senator Feinstein: (26:31)
If she could speak more loudly.
Ms. Yates: (26:35)
I’m sorry, I’m hearing-
Mr. Graham: (26:36)
Ma’am, could you speak up just a little louder, please?
Ms. Yates: (26:39)
Sure. I’ve never been accused of being too soft-spoken, but I’ll try to be louder, yes. Chairman Graham, you have indicated that you are particularly interested in the meeting that occurred in the Oval Office on January 5th, 2017. Can you all hear me okay now?
Mr. Graham: (26:57)
Ms. Yates: (26:59)
Great. So, why don’t I just go directly to that? This meeting took place just two months after the 2016 election, and this was at a time when we were just beginning to come to terms with a foreign adversary’s stunning systematic attack on our democracy. You know, we’ve all heard Russian interference in our election so much that it’s kind of lost its shock value, but this attack on our Homeland was indeed shocking. By late December, our intelligence community had determined that Russia acting on the direct orders of President Vladimir Putin, had engaged in a massive effort to undermine faith in our democratic processes, to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chance of electability, and to aid the candidacy of now President Donald Trump. The Russian government had used cyber attacks, the strategic release of stolen information, and a coordinated campaign to weaponize social media against American citizens.
Ms. Yates: (28:11)
This unprecedented act of aggression could not go unanswered. So on December 28th, the Obama administration took a first step by ejecting 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions on Russia. They did this both to punish the Russians for their attack on our democracy, and importantly, to deter them from ever doing it again. As expected, the Russians immediately announced that they would retaliate, but then the next day, they inexplicably reversed course and announced that they didn’t intend to take any responsive action. The administration was understandably perplexed by this abrupt change, and President Obama asked the intel community to try to figure out what had happened.
Ms. Yates: (29:08)
And the FBI discovered the answer. General Michael Flynn, the incoming national security advisor, was having back channel discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Recorded conversations between General Flynn and the ambassador revealed that General Flynn had essentially neutered the U.S. government’s message of deterrence. Far from rebuking the Russians for their attack on our country, General Flynn was conciliatory. He tried to persuade the Russians not to escalate the situation so they could reset the relationship. The day after General Flynn’s call with Kislyak, Putin himself announced that the Russians wouldn’t take any action whatsoever to respond to America’s sanctions, and President Trump tweeted praise of Putin’s decision. In a follow-up call between Kislyak and Flynn, Kislyak advised Flynn that Moscow had made this decision and made this course reversal as a direct result of Flynn’s request.
Ms. Yates: (30:18)
So, that’s what was happening in the days that led up to this January 5th meeting. On that day, the White House had the intel chiefs in to brief the president and the vice president of the national security advisor on their intelligence assessment of Russian interference. Portions of that assessment were due to be released publicly the next day. Attorney General Lynch was out of town, so I was asked to stand in in her place. Following the briefing, which took place in the Oval Office, the president asked Director Comey and me to stay back with the vice president and the national security advisor. I recall that the president began the after meeting by saying something to the effect that he had learned of the calls between Kislyak and Flynn, and he didn’t want to know anything anymore, and he didn’t want to influence anything, but what he did want to know was whether the White House could continue to share sensitive national security information with General Flynn during the transition.
Ms. Yates: (31:28)
Now, at this point, I didn’t know why the president was asking this question, because this was the first I had heard of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak. I was really surprised both that General Flynn had engaged in these discussions and that director Comey knew about them, but I didn’t. And so after we left the Oval Office, Director Comey and I talked in the waiting room that’s there outside the Oval Office. I was frankly irritated with Director Comey for not having told me about the calls, and I asked him why-
Sally Yates: (32:03)
… for not having told me about the calls. And I asked him why this was the first that I was hearing of this. And he told me that his team had briefed the lawyers in the National Security Division about the calls the previous day. And he expected that the NSD lawyers would brief me. As it turned out, the National Security Division lawyers had in fact made an appointment already that was scheduled with me for that afternoon.
Sally Yates: (32:28)
Now, while I don’t recall all the details of the conversation in the Oval Office, my memory is clear on the important points. The purpose of this meeting was for the President to find out whether based on the calls between Ambassador Kislyak and General Flynn, the transition team needed to be careful about what it was sharing with General Flynn. During the meeting, the President, the Vice President and the National Security Advisor did not in any way, attempt to direct or influence any kind of investigation.
Sally Yates: (33:06)
Something like that would have set off alarms for me. And it would have stuck out both at the time, and in my memory; no such thing happened. The President was focused entirely on the national security implications of sharing sensitive intelligence information with General Flynn during the transition, a process that was obviously already underway at the White House.
Sally Yates: (33:33)
I will close with this, in this election year, I hope that we won’t lose sight of the very real threat posed by the ongoing efforts of a foreign adversary to undermine our democratic processes. And that we will continue to proactively protect the integrity of our elections. I look forward to answering your questions. Thank you.
Mr. Graham: (33:58)
Thank you very much. You mentioned shock value, that its shocking what the Russians did. I agree. We need to stop it. Did you read the Horowitz report, Ms. Yates?
Sally Yates: (34:09)
Mr. Graham: (34:10)
Were you shocked by it?
Sally Yates: (34:12)
I certainly was shocked. Yes. I think that the conduct that was reflected there was [crosstalk 00:34:19]-
Mr. Graham: (34:20)
Let’s talk about that conduct right quick. We’re talking about using a document that came from a Russian sub source to get a warrant against an American citizen repeatedly that was full of garbage. Does that bother you?
Sally Yates: (34:35)
Well, I’m not sure that I agree with your characterization.
Mr. Graham: (34:39)
Does it bother you that the FISA Court rebuked the Department of Justice and FBI regarding the Carter Page warrant application?
Sally Yates: (34:47)
Senator, I believe that the Department of Justice and the FBI have a duty of candor with the FISA Court, that was not met.
Mr. Graham: (34:54)
Do you believe they fulfilled that duty?
Sally Yates: (34:55)
No, I do not believe that they did. I think that there were [crosstalk 00:34:56]-
Mr. Graham: (34:58)
Okay. As a matter of fact, you signed that warrant application in October and January. Is that correct?
Sally Yates: (35:03)
Mr. Graham: (35:05)
Knowing then, what you know now, would you sign that application?
Sally Yates: (35:09)
Senator, I would never sign any document, in any [crosstalk 00:35:12]-
Mr. Graham: (35:12)
So I’ll take that to be no, because that document was a fraud. Is that a fair statement? If you knew then what you know now you wouldn’t have signed it?
Sally Yates: (35:21)
I wouldn’t sign anything that I knew to contain errors or admissions.
Mr. Graham: (35:25)
Well, did that contain errors and admissions?
Sally Yates: (35:27)
Yeah. And I would never knowingly sign a document. I didn’t do that in the 27 years, I was [crosstalk 00:35:33]-
Mr. Graham: (35:34)
I believe you didn’t know. I believe you didn’t know that what you signed was wrong. The question is if you had known you wouldn’t of signed it, is that correct?
Sally Yates: (35:41)
No. If I had known that it contained incorrect information, I certainly wouldn’t have signed it.
Mr. Graham: (35:45)
Thank you. And do you agree with me, it did contain incorrect information?
Sally Yates: (35:50)
I know that now based on the Horowitz report.
Mr. Graham: (35:54)
That’s all I’m trying to say. I’m not saying that you lied to the court. I’m saying you signed something that was a lie and you didn’t know it. Now, lets’s talk about January 5th meeting. Was the Vice President there?
Sally Yates: (36:10)
Yes, he was.
Mr. Graham: (36:11)
Okay. Did he mention the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (36:16)
I don’t remember the Vice President saying much of anything in this meeting.
Mr. Graham: (36:20)
So you don’t remember him mentioning the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (36:23)
No. I don’t.
Mr. Graham: (36:24)
Did anybody mention the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (36:27)
I have a vague memory of Director Comey mentioning the Logan Act. But I’m not sure [crosstalk 00:04:33]-
Mr. Graham: (36:32)
Okay. What was he mentioning the Logan Act about? In what context?
Sally Yates: (36:37)
Well, I’m not sure if he mentioned that in the Oval Office meeting or in the meeting that he and I [crosstalk 00:04:44]-
Mr. Graham: (36:44)
What do you think about the-
Mr. Leahy: (36:44)
Mr. Chairman, let her answer the question. Just because it’s a woman testifying doesn’t mean she has to be cut off for every answer.
Mr. Graham: (36:51)
Yeah. Thanks a lot, Senator Leahy, I really appreciate that. You’re very constructive. So here’s my question, was the Logan Act mentioned in the meeting?
Sally Yates: (37:02)
I recall mentioning Director Comey mentioning it at some point. What I’m not sure about Senator Graham, and I want to be absolutely certain-
Mr. Graham: (37:09)
That’s fair. That’s fair. You don’t know if has mentioned the meeting or not. Do you believe the-
Sally Yates: (37:14)
No. I do recall Director Comey mentioning it at some point, I’m not sure if it was in the meeting [crosstalk 00:37:17]-
Mr. Graham: (37:17)
Right. No, I got you. I got you.
Sally Yates: (37:19)
[crosstalk 00:37:19] or in the discussion, he and I had. That’s all I’m trying to say.
Mr. Graham: (37:23)
Here’s the question did a General Kislyaks behavior amount of violation of the Logan Act, in your opinion?
Sally Yates: (37:31)
It certainly could have been a technical violation, but that was not the focus of the FBI or us, that we were really focused on a counter intelligence investigation.
Mr. Graham: (37:40)
Do you realize that on January the fourth, the FBI recommended to drop General Flynn from Crossfire Hurricane?
Sally Yates: (37:49)
I understand. Well, I know that now. I didn’t know that at the time [crosstalk 00:37:52]-
Mr. Graham: (37:53)
But here’s my point Ms. Yates, on January the fourth, the FBI said, “There’s no reason to keep looking at General Flynn.” On January the fifth, you have a meeting with the FBI director where you believe he mentions the Logan Act in regard to General Flynn. Is that correct?
Sally Yates: (38:12)
What I understand, Senator Graham, is that… And I didn’t know at the time, because I wasn’t privy to the FBI’s internal documentation of the counter-intelligence investigation.
Mr. Graham: (38:25)
Did you even know what was going on?
Sally Yates: (38:28)
I did not, specifically with respect to General Flynn, no. I knew that there was a [crosstalk 00:38:32]-
Mr. Graham: (38:33)
So you did not know the FBI had a counter intelligence investigation of General Flynn.
Sally Yates: (38:37)
No, I did not. Until-
Mr. Graham: (38:39)
Here’s my question. The January 24th interview by General Flynn, bye two FBI agents, did you authorize that interview?
Sally Yates: (38:49)
No, I did not.
Mr. Graham: (38:50)
Did you council the [crosstalk 00:38:52]-
Sally Yates: (38:51)
[crosstalk 00:38:51] I don’t believe that there was a legitimate basis for it.
Mr. Graham: (38:55)
Say that again?
Sally Yates: (38:56)
I’m sorry. I didn’t authorize that interview because I wasn’t told about it in advance, but that’s not the same thing as saying that I don’t believe that there was legitimate basis for it.
Mr. Graham: (39:07)
So you believe there was a legitimate basis for the interview?
Sally Yates: (39:09)
Yes, I do.
Mr. Graham: (39:10)
What was that basis?
Sally Yates: (39:12)
Well, at the time, Senator Graham, we were in a situation where we had evidence that the Russians were attempting to influence the election to benefit-
Mr. Graham: (39:22)
The election was over.
Sally Yates: (39:26)
Right. If you give me just a second here, I think I can lay it out for you.
Mr. Graham: (39:31)
No, no, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to ask questions, and you’re going to give me answers. What was the basis of the General Flynn interview? Was it part of Crossfire Hurricane?
Sally Yates: (39:43)
My understanding, yes, it was.
Mr. Graham: (39:45)
They just recommended to drop him from Crossfire Hurricane the day before. Was it part of-
Sally Yates: (39:51)
[crosstalk 00:39:51] And that was before they had information about the calls with [crosstalk 00:39:52]-
Mr. Graham: (39:54)
Please. Please. We’re talking now about the interview on January 4th. Was it to determine if there was a violation of the Logan Act? Was that the basis of the interview?
Sally Yates: (40:04)
No, it was not about the Logan Act, per se. It was to find out about his conversations that he had had [crosstalk 00:40:10]-
Mr. Graham: (40:12)
Didn’t you have the transcript of his conversations?
Sally Yates: (40:15)
But he was providing false information about those.
Mr. Graham: (40:19)
Did you have the transcripts of the conversation between the National Security Advisor, and the Russian Ambassador?
Sally Yates: (40:26)
At some point, I know we had what we called the cuts at that point, the FBI agents may have had the actual transcripts.
Mr. Graham: (40:32)
Was this a counter-intelligence investigation of the phone call?
Sally Yates: (40:37)
This was a counter-intelligence investigation of the Trump campaign’s potential relationship with the Russians.
Mr. Graham: (40:45)
That makes no sense. So on January the fourth, they recommend to drop Flynn. They mentioned the Logan Act and you advised against prosecuting the Logan Act. Is that true?
Sally Yates: (40:56)
We never made an official decision about whether we were going to do it, but I think it was unlikely, certainly unlikely that we would pursue a prosecution. And that was not her primary concern, it was not a Logan Act violation, it was a counter-intelligence concern.
Mr. Graham: (41:10)
Okay. Here’s what I want to understand, is the counter-intelligence investigation that led to the interview. You didn’t authorize the interview. As a matter of fact, you wanted to go to the White House and tell them about the problem, didn’t you?
Sally Yates: (41:24)
That’s right. I thought that that was the more immediate issue that needed to be addressed.
Mr. Graham: (41:30)
And when you heard about the interview, you got upset, didn’t you?
Sally Yates: (41:33)
I was upset that Director Comey didn’t coordinate that with us and acted unilaterally. Yes, I was.
Mr. Graham: (41:38)
Okay. Did Comey go rogue?
Sally Yates: (41:42)
You could use that term. Yes.
Mr. Graham: (41:46)
Sally Yates: (41:48)
Mr. Graham: (41:48)
Wait a minute. Thank you. Thank you. So here’s the point I’m trying to make. Did I violate the Logan Act when I call the Israelis up and suggested that you need to come out against the Iranian Nuclear Deal because I think it’s bad for the United States and Israel, even though that was the policy of the Obama Administration?
Sally Yates: (42:12)
If you were doing that as a representative of the government, while the Obama Administration was in place.
Mr. Graham: (42:19)
I’m not a part of the Obama Administration.
Sally Yates: (42:22)
No, I understand that. But, I think the Logan Act is a reflection of our country’s longstanding policy-
Mr. Graham: (42:30)
My question is, would a United States Senator in your view, violate the Logan Act if they reached out to a foreign government to express a contrary view of foreign policy?
Sally Yates: (42:40)
If you were negotiating on behalf of the US Government, you may. But Senator, I have to tell you the whole prism here that you have, that this is all about the Logan Act is just not how we [crosstalk 00:10:51]-
Mr. Graham: (42:52)
Why did somebody bring it up? Why did they mention the Logan Act, if it’s not about the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (42:58)
Because as I was trying to say just a minute ago, that’s a reflection of our long standing policy in the United States that you have one president at a time. And this wasn’t just [crosstalk 00:43:08]-
Mr. Graham: (43:08)
IS it the long standing policy of the United States that an incoming administration can’t talk to foreign leaders about changing policy?
Sally Yates: (43:17)
You can certainly talk to foreign leaders about a potential change in policy in the future, but this wasn’t any policy. This was undercutting the sanctions of US Government and [crosstalk 00:43:27]-
Mr. Graham: (43:26)
You had one administration leaving in two week, and you had a new administration coming in, urging them, don’t escalate. And to anybody who thinks that’s a violation of the Logan Act, that is stunning as hell. That means you can’t really talk to anybody. You can’t hit the ground running.
Mr. Graham: (43:46)
So I just don’t understand where the Logan Act came up. And I do believe very deeply that you were surprised that the President knew about the intercept, and you didn’t. Who told the President of the United States about the intercept between Kislyak and Flynn?
Sally Yates: (44:07)
I don’t know, but it doesn’t surprise me at all that the President [crosstalk 00:44:09]-
Mr. Graham: (44:09)
Have you ever asked anybody?
Sally Yates: (44:12)
No, because I would expect that the President would know about a National Security [inaudible 00:44:15].
Mr. Graham: (44:16)
But you didn’t know.
Sally Yates: (44:16)
Right, because I [crosstalk 00:00:44:19]-
Mr. Graham: (44:16)
You were surprised you didn’t know. Who in the FBI went around you to tell the President?
Sally Yates: (44:27)
I don’t know that the FBI told the President.
Mr. Graham: (44:29)
Did you ask Comey coming out, “Hey, have you been talking to the president about this and not talking to me?”
Sally Yates: (44:34)
No. What I asked him was why he knew about it and I didn’t? And he hadn’t told me.
Mr. Graham: (44:38)
Did he tell the President about it or do you know?
Sally Yates: (44:41)
I don’t know who told the President.
Mr. Graham: (44:43)
You never asked Comey, “Did you tell the president about this investigation?”
Sally Yates: (44:48)
No, because Senator, my concern was not that the President knew, it was not only entirely appropriate, but [crosstalk 00:44:53]-
Mr. Graham: (44:54)
You seem very surprised and shocked that he knew and you didn’t.
Sally Yates: (44:59)
Right. Because Director Comey was part of the Department of Justice, and I expected him to tell me about it.
Mr. Graham: (45:03)
So here’s a question, final question.
Sally Yates: (45:05)
[crosstalk 00:45:05] as it turned out, to be fair to Director Comey, they had told the National Security [crosstalk 00:45:09]-
Mr. Graham: (45:08)
Final question. Who’s the most likely person to tell the President about the investigation?
Sally Yates: (45:15)
It wasn’t about an investigation, Senator, [crosstalk 00:45:22]-
Mr. Graham: (45:17)
About the intercept.
Sally Yates: (45:18)
I can’t tell you who was the most enlightened-
Mr. Graham: (45:22)
Wouldn’t it be Comey? Didn’t he pull Comey aside?
Sally Yates: (45:26)
I think this information was shared with the Intelligence Community, Senator. [crosstalk 00:45:31]-
Mr. Graham: (45:29)
Do you think it’d be good to ask Comey about that?
Speaker 1: (45:32)
Mr. Chairman, give her the chance to answer.
Sally Yates: (45:38)
I’m sorry, Senator, I didn’t hear your last question.
Mr. Graham: (45:39)
I’m sorry. Do you believe the most logical person to tell the President about the intercept was Comey? He’s in charge of the investigation.
Sally Yates: (45:47)
Well, first, Director Comey, wasn’t talking to the President about an investigation. And second [crosstalk 00:45:54]-
Mr. Graham: (45:53)
About the intercept.
Sally Yates: (45:55)
About the intercept. I don’t know if it was Comey or the Director of National Intelligence, or who it was. It could have been. I don’t know.
Mr. Graham: (46:01)
Would the Director of National Intelligence be investigating a violation of the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (46:08)
Because the President, when the Russian so inexplicably reversed course [crosstalk 00:00:46:15]-
Mr. Graham: (46:13)
Here’s my question, would the intelligence community be investigating a violation of the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (46:20)
Senator, [crosstalk 00:00:46:19]-
Mr. Graham: (46:21)
Is that appropriate? Is that appropriate?
Sally Yates: (46:22)
[crosstalk 00:46:22] investigating a violation of the Logan Act, I don’t know how many times I can say that that wasn’t the prism. It was a counterintelligence threat.
Mr. Graham: (46:31)
Now, you keep saying there was no… Well, he was dropped from the investigation on January the fourth. They talk about the Logan Act. This makes no sense that you didn’t know, and the President did. And I’m trying to find out how the President knew and you didn’t and you still can’t tell me that. Is that fair to say?
Sally Yates: (46:49)
Senator, you won’t let me finish the sentence where [crosstalk 00:14:51]-
Mr. Graham: (46:52)
Sally Yates: (46:53)
[crosstalk 00:46:53] my understanding is that the agents had suggested that the specific case on General Flynn, because before they knew about the conversations with Ambassador Kislyak.
Mr. Graham: (47:07)
Still don’t get it. But thank you.
Senator Feinstein: (47:13)
Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He also lied to Vice President Pence who repeated Flynn’s lies on national television. You’ve explained that this made Flynn susceptible to Russian blackmail. The Justice Department now says that the Flynn case should be dismissed because his lies were not material to a legitimate investigation. Do you agree why, or why not?
Sally Yates: (47:52)
Thank you Senator Feinstein. Well, I would be hard pressed to be able to think of an interview that would have been more material at this point of the counter-intelligence investigation that the FBI was conducting to try to be able to get to the bottom of whether there were any individuals, US citizens, and those associated with the Trump campaign who were working with the Russians.
Sally Yates: (48:21)
So the materiality of this was squarely, right on point. We had a National Security Advisor after the Russians had attempted to put a thumb on the scale on our election. Who Rather than, when he spoke with the Russian Ambassador, telling him, “Stay out of our elections, keep your nose and your paws out of it,” even if they want to reset going forward, but to rebuke him. And to let him know that we will not tolerate their country, trying to intervene and pick our president. Not only did he not do that, he was making nice with them. And then on top of that, you had the [crosstalk 00:49:00]-
Senator Feinstein: (49:00)
Could I stop you for a moment? The question was, are you saying that the Flynn case should be dismissed because the lies were not material to a legitimate investigation?
Sally Yates: (49:15)
No, I think, Senator, that they were absolutely material to a legitimate investigation. And this investigation [crosstalk 00:49:23]-
Senator Feinstein: (49:24)
Sally Yates: (49:25)
Senator Feinstein: (49:26)
Then I guess I’m not understanding what you’re saying. Could you try it once again?
Sally Yates: (49:34)
Sure. I’ll try it again. I was trying to lay out for you, Senator, what the situation was at the time that General Flynn was interviewed. And that was, we had General Flynn engaging in discussions with the Russian Ambassador that were essentially neutering the American sanctions. And that is a very curious thing to be doing. Particularly when the Russians had been acting to benefit President Trump. And then he is covering it up. He’s lying about it.
Sally Yates: (50:02)
So the agents understandably needed to understand what the relationship was here between General Flynn and the Russians. And to try to find out from him, who else might have been involved in this? And had General Flynn been honest when the agents came to him, and had he admitted what he had said, then the agents would have found out what the Mueller investigation discovered later. And that is, is that General Flynn was not acting on his own.
Sally Yates: (50:32)
And these were not conversations that were just off the top of his head. But rather, he had been coordinating all of this with his Deputy National Security Advisor, who was at Mar-a-Lago with other transition team members. And it was a very deliberate planned set of conversations with the Russian Ambassador to essentially tell them, “Don’t worry about it. Things are going to change what’s were in place.”
Senator Feinstein: (50:56)
Sally Yates: (50:57)
Senator Feinstein: (50:57)
When you testified to this Committee on May 18th, 2017, you said that, “Michael Flynn’s lies to Vice President Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak made Flynn vulnerable to Russian blackmail,” and quote, “To state the obvious you do not want your National Security Advisor compromised by the Russians,” end quote.
Senator Feinstein: (51:24)
You also said that, “Flynn’s underlying conduct was problematic in and of itself,” but you could not go further because it was classified. Transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Kislyak have now been declassified and released publicly. So why was Flynn’s underlying conduct, problematic?
Sally Yates: (51:51)
Lets [inaudible 00:51:52] because he was, as I mentioned, neutering the sanctions that were imposed by the Obama Administration on a foreign adversary who was trying to intervene in our election. General Flynn recognized himself that these discussions were problematic when he admitted to the FBI agents later when he was cooperating with them, that he didn’t even write down his conversations with the Russian Ambassador when he sent a text back to Ms. McFarland.
Sally Yates: (52:24)
Because he knew that those discussions would be viewed as interfering with the foreign policy of the Obama administration, and that would be a problem. That’s also why he lied about it and covered it up. So if General Flynn didn’t think he was doing anything problematic, then he wouldn’t have had a need to cover it up.
Senator Feinstein: (52:47)
Is it possible that Flynn lied to the FBI about his calls with Kislyak to conceal the fact that the Trump Administration did not plan to hold Russia accountable for interfering in the election?
Sally Yates: (53:04)
That is certainly part of what the FBI needed to be talking to General Flynn about. Was to find out why he had these discussions? Who else was part of them? And what was behind it? But unfortunately General Flynn was not truthful with them, so they weren’t able to do that. That again goes to the materiality.
Senator Feinstein: (53:27)
Inspector Horowitz confirmed that the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation was opened at the end of July, 2016. When the FBI was told by Australia, a trusted ally and intelligence partner, that the Trump Campaign Advisor, George Papadopoulos had advanced knowledge that Russia was planning to release stolen emails to harm Clinton and help Trump. The FBI learned this shortly after WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 emails stolen by Russia from DNC computers. Wasn’t there some obligation for the FBI to investigate, to learn what Russia was doing and who was involved?
Sally Yates: (54:19)
Absolutely Senator. It was really startling information. The FBI is part of the intel community was already working, trying really hard to be able to get to the bottom of Russian interference, and to address issues like attribution on the DNC hack. And then when they learned from the [inaudible 00:54:39] foreign government, that someone that affiliated with the Russians had actually approached a foreign policy advisor of the Trump campaign and had told him that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails that could be released anonymously and wanted to know if the campaign was interested in this.
Sally Yates: (55:04)
When they found out this information had come in, in May, and then it actually happened. The emails were then dumped by WikiLeaks in July. This was something that I think everyone would recognize that you have to get to the bottom of it.
Senator Feinstein: (55:22)
This May, the Justice Department moved to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The lead prosecutor resigned from Flynn’s, and District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan, took the unusual step of appointing an outside lawyer, former Judge John Gleeson to oppose the department’s motion. According to Judge Gleeson, the Justice Department’s effort to dismiss Flynn’s case is highly irregular and quote, “A gross abuse of prosecutorial power,” end quote.
Senator Feinstein: (56:02)
In order to quote, “Benefit a political ally of President Trump.” Do you agree that the department’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s case is highly irregular? If so, how?
Sally Yates: (56:20)
It is highly irregular, Senator. I was a prosecutor at the Department of Justice for almost 30 years, and I’ve certainly never seen a pleading like this. And as I think I’ve already discussed something with Senator Graham and with you, from my perspective, there’s no issue with respect to the materiality here, nor to the government’s ability to be able to prove falsity. Not only because you could look at the transcripts and see the black and white there, in terms of it being false. But in fact, General Flynn had twice pled guilty and sworn that he was guilty.
Senator Feinstein: (56:56)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (56:58)
Mr. Grassley: (57:00)
Ms. Yates, thank you for your public service. You approved the first and second Carter Page FISA applications prior to approving. Did you review each application in its entirety?
Sally Yates: (57:20)
I did Senator. Yes.
Mr. Grassley: (57:21)
I didn’t hear you.
Sally Yates: (57:22)
I did Senator. Yes. And do I need to speak more loudly? I’m sorry to interrupt, but-
Mr. Grassley: (57:26)
Okay. You told me you did review them in their entirety. Okay.
Sally Yates: (57:30)
Yes. So let me, it’s possible that there’s some boiler plate language that’s in every FISA, that I might not have reviewed again, but I certainly reviewed all of the factual information in the FISA.
Mr. Grassley: (57:43)
Okay. Number two, when you were interviewed by IG Horowitz’s Office about your decision to approve the first Carter Page FISA application, you stated the following about Steele’s research quote, “While certainly there was an implication that he was doing opposition research, it’s got to be for somebody. I mean, he’s been hired by someone. My understanding was that the FBI didn’t know who,” end of quote.
Mr. Grassley: (58:18)
The inspector general said the Steele dossier was central and essential to the Carter Page FISA. If it was clear to you at the time that Steele was conducting opposition research for someone, why didn’t you act responsibly to at least have an elementary understanding of the extreme conflicts involved regarding his employment before approving the first FISA application?
Sally Yates: (58:47)
Senator, it’s my understanding that even the FBI didn’t know who had employed Steele at the time of the first FISA. But we were concerned because for the reasons that I had had expressed to the Inspector General, logic would tell you that if somebody is out there doing opposition research, there’s a limited number of folks that you might expect that to be.
Sally Yates: (59:12)
But the FBI didn’t know, my understanding is, at that point, but it was the DNC or Hillary Clinton. And so lawyers in the National Security Division had worked and insisted that there at least be something in the FISA that laid out, what did I speculated. And it’s a very unusual thing to include speculation in an affidavit. But here, they felt like it was really important to flag that for the FISA Court. And to let them know, even though the FBI didn’t know that it was being paid for by the DNC, but there certainly was a possibility of that.
Mr. Grassley: (59:47)
In April 2016, President Obama said, quote, “I don’t talk to the FBI directors about pending investigation,” end of quote. In the 302 of your interview with the FBI, you said that in your January 5th, 2017 meeting with Obama and Comey, there was a discussion about Flynn, and potential violations of the Logan Act. According to declassified notes, summarizing that meeting President Obama said to Comey quote, “Make sure you look at things and have the right people on it,” end of quote. How can you square? Obama’s April 2016 statement with a January 5th, 2017 meeting with Comey and Obama?
Sally Yates: (01:00:37)
Yes, Senator. And as I mentioned in my opening segment, that meeting was not about an investigation at all. And I can tell you that that is something that would have crossed the line. And if President Obama, or Vice President Biden, or National Security Advisor Rice was in any way trying to influence an investigation, that would have set off alarms for me. This was not about that. This was about the National Security implications of continuing to share sensitive information with General Flynn, given what they had learned about his back channel discussion with the Russian Ambassador to neuter the sanctions.
Mr. Grassley: (01:01:17)
Your January 5th, 2017 meeting with President Obama had two parts. The first part included Biden, Comey, Brannan, Clapper, and Rice. The second part was just you, Comey, and the President. In either meeting did Crossfire Hurricane or the Steele dossier ever come up?
Sally Yates: (01:01:40)
Mr. Grassley: (01:01:42)
Did you, or one of your colleagues ever discuss Crossfire Hurricane or the Steele dossier with President Obama or Vice President Biden?
Sally Yates: (01:01:52)
No, I certainly didn’t. I can’t imagine any of my colleagues did.
Mr. Grassley: (01:01:57)
Okay. I have eight seconds left. Thanks to Attorney General Barr, material relating to Flynn has finally been released. Those records show the FBI planned to close the Flynn case in early January 2017, until Struck interceded that the FBI deliberately set Flynn up to prosecute him, or get him fired, and that there was no derogatory information on Flynn. When you were Deputy Attorney General and acting Attorney General, were you aware of this information?
Sally Yates: (01:02:31)
[inaudible 01:02:31] they planned to close this specific counter-intelligence investigation on General Flynn. My understanding is, is that was prior to the time they knew anything about these calls with the Russian Ambassador. And I was operating under the impression that this interview of General Flynn was in the context of the broader Crossfire Hurricane investigation. That being, trying to discern what the connections were between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Mr. Grassley: (01:03:03)
Okay. Thank you Ms. Yates.
Speaker 1: (01:03:04)
Mr. Leahy: (01:03:14)
Why thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Yates, it’s good to see you again. We keep talking about General Flynn whether he lied or not, of course, President Trump’s that he did lie, among others, to Vice President Pence, and that’s why he had to fire him. And the last time you testified before this committee May 2017, I asked about your decision as acting Attorney General to notify White House Counsel, Don McGahn, that then National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn had been lying to multiple Trump officials, including the Vice President about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. You supported-
Mr. Leahy: (01:04:03)
… his conversations with the Russian ambassador, you supported informing the White House, even though some others did not at the time. You stated the need to notify the administration became clear as the White House issued increasingly specific emphatic denials that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian Ambassador, which of course increased Mr. Flynn’s vulnerability to blackmail. Do you believe General Flynn was effectively compromised?
Sally Yates: (01:04:35)
I believe then and I believe now that there was a risk of that compromise and that’s why it was so important to get this information to the White House so that they could act. And the conversations themselves were concerning and that was a proper basis to be part of the counter-intelligence investigation. But you have to balance the investigation also with the need to address the compromised threat that presented itself most urgently. And in doing that balancing, I thought that we needed to go tell the White House right away, so that they could act. And so that others who presumably did not know that the information they were providing to the American people was false, so they would quit doing that.
Mr. Leahy: (01:05:21)
I think you’re probably not surprised when President Trump removed General Flynn, but do you believe that by encouraging Russia to not react to U.S sanctions, Flynn undercut our nation’s response to Russia’s attack on our elections?
Sally Yates: (01:05:40)
I do. I think that’s one of the concerns Senator, as I mentioned, the purpose of the sanctions was both to punish and deter. And when General Flynn was essentially saying, never mind on those sanctions, we’re just going to move forward. That certainly doesn’t send the message to the Russians that we want them to stay out of our elections.
Mr. Leahy: (01:06:01)
And undercuts our efforts.
Sally Yates: (01:06:04)
It certainly does.
Mr. Leahy: (01:06:05)
Thank you. Now, some of Mr. Flynn’s staunchest defenders have argued that because the FBI suspected Flynn, may continue to lie about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, he was entrapped when he was interviewed by the FBI. In your view, is it ever entrapment for investigators to give an individual an opportunity to tell the truth about an issue relevant to their investigation?
Sally Yates: (01:06:34)
No, it’s not and actually here the agents even took that a step further. And not only asked General Flynn open ended questions to give him an opportunity to tell them the truth about what had happened in his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. When he indicated, when he, for example, at the beginning gave nothing but innocuous points that had come up and nothing at all about sanctions or about the United Nations vote. They then try to help trigger his memory for him and reminded him of specific things. Sometimes even using the exact language he had used in the calls. If you’re trying to set somebody up to lie, which I don’t really know how to set somebody up to lie, you don’t generally try to help them out like that.
Mr. Leahy: (01:07:22)
Yeah, you either lie or you don’t lie. Last week the Attorney General claimed the Flynn interview was untethered to any legitimate investigation. One, do you agree with that? And do you believe a legitimate predicate existed to investigate, interview Flynn in January, given what you’d learned about as December calls with the Russian Ambassador and his subsequent misrepresentations of those calls?
Sally Yates: (01:07:51)
Absolutely Senator. I believe that the most urgent thing was to notify the White House. Interviewing General Flynn was really right at the core of the FBI’s investigation at this point to try to discern what are the ties between the Trump administration and the Russians.
Mr. Leahy: (01:08:11)
Thank you. And the Inspector General informed this committee, the only surveillance targeting any the Trump campaign official involved Carter Page. I’ll submit some questions in writing about that, but can you speak to whether the government was specifically targeting Flynn with surveillance when it intercepted his calls with the Russian ambassador?
Sally Yates: (01:08:34)
No. The surveillance was not of General Flynn. I am still not permitted to tell you what it was. In fact, we checked with the Department of Justice just a couple of days ago before I testified because I would like to be able to specifically tell you what it was, but there was no surveillance of General Flynn.
Mr. Leahy: (01:08:53)
Thank you very much, I appreciate that. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Graham: (01:08:56)
Thank you, Senator Leahy, very quickly before I turn it to Senator Cornyn. I want to make sure I understand this. The interview with General Flynn, were you investigating a policy difference between the Trump administration and the Obama administration?
Sally Yates: (01:09:15)
No, Senator, we were not investigating a policy difference.
Mr. Graham: (01:09:19)
Well, you weren’t investigating their crime were you?
Sally Yates: (01:09:22)
We were investigating a counterintelligence threat.
Mr. Graham: (01:09:25)
Okay. Is it a counterintelligence investigation based on a policy difference?
Sally Yates: (01:09:31)
It’s a counterintelligence investigation based on the Russians systematic attempts to [crosstalk 01:09:36] our election.
Mr. Graham: (01:09:36)
Wait a minute, this is very important. Your beef with Flynn was he was undercutting Obama policy. Is that what you were worried about?
Sally Yates: (01:09:45)
Well, what we were worried about was that he was undercutting Obama policy, and then he was covering it up [crosstalk 00:05:53].
Mr. Graham: (01:09:51)
No, he hadn’t even talked to the FBI. You sent the FBI over. And there was no leak of anything. So isn’t a fact you’re really investigating a policy difference?
Sally Yates: (01:10:08)
No, Senator, that’s not accurate. There was a cover up before this. In fact, that’s what prompted my concerns was that he was providing false information to the Vice President and to others.
Mr. Graham: (01:10:20)
When did you know about that?
Sally Yates: (01:10:21)
[crosstalk 01:10:21] That preceded this, Senator. That’s why I wanted to go to the White House-
Mr. Graham: (01:10:26)
So why didn’t you go to the White House and say, “Is this your policy position?”
Sally Yates: (01:10:32)
The concern was not about a policy difference here, Senator. The concern was about him undercutting the Obama administration and then covering it up.
Mr. Graham: (01:10:42)
Mr. Leahy: (01:10:43)
The chairman insofar as you followed up on my question that time, I should note that as I said before, they’re following a counterintelligence threat.
Mr. Graham: (01:10:56)
Which was closed on January the fourth.
Sally Yates: (01:11:00)
Senator, I’m sorry but that’s just not accurate. It was not closed on January [inaudible 00:07:05].
Mr. Graham: (01:11:04)
Recommended to be closed on January the fourth, the day before the meeting. And the only problem here is that you didn’t like Flynn changing the policy or talking about changing the policy, that he had every right to do that. And what we’re doing here is we’re criminalizing policy differences. That’s why Flynn got prosecuted because they hate his guts. Senator Cornyn.
Senator Cornyn: (01:11:31)
Ms. Yates, let me change the subject a little bit. Based on your long and distinguished service with the Department of Justice, are you aware of any precedent for the both of the major party nominees for President of the United States being investigated either for a crime or a counterintelligence investigation in the run up to a presidential election?
Sally Yates: (01:11:58)
No, I don’t.
Senator Cornyn: (01:12:00)
Me either. Let me ask you, during the investigation of Hillary Clinton over her email server, James Comey, the FBI director had a press conference as you know on July the fifth, where he talked about the investigation, talked about derogatory information collected during that investigation. But yet, said no reasonable prosecutor would prosecute that case. Did you know before July the fifth, 2016, that he was going to do that?
Sally Yates: (01:12:38)
No, I didn’t.
Senator Cornyn: (01:12:40)
Did you know when he reopened the case after Anthony Wiener’s computer was looked at, did you know he was going to reopen the case?
Sally Yates: (01:12:55)
Senator Cornyn: (01:12:55)
Sally Yates: (01:12:56)
[inaudible 01:12:56] I can’t tell you. And candidly Senator, that was more than four years ago now and I didn’t go back and try to review any of that. I know I knew about it. I can’t tell you whether it was beforehand or contemporaneous with that.
Senator Cornyn: (01:13:10)
Would you agree with me, Director Comey’s conduct was highly irregular?
Sally Yates: (01:13:17)
I don’t know how to characterize his conduct, Senator.
Senator Cornyn: (01:13:20)
You don’t know how to characterize it. The FBI director’s a direct report to the Deputy Attorney General, correct?
Sally Yates: (01:13:29)
Senator Cornyn: (01:13:33)
So from the time Crossfire Hurricane was opened on July 31st until you signed the first FISA application on October the 21st, did Director Comey keep you apprised of what the investigation showed?
Sally Yates: (01:13:50)
We had interactions, I met with the FBI three times a week on national security matters and also met with the national security division. I certainly was provided with some information, but I will tell you, I don’t think that the FBI was providing us with as much information as they should have now that I know more about the investigation. And I would agree with Inspector General Horowitz’s recommendation that in matters like this, that there should be both consultation with department leadership as well as more thorough briefings.
Senator Cornyn: (01:14:25)
Thank you. I guess you would also agree that Director Comey should have consulted with you and the Attorney General during his dealings with the Hillary Clinton investigation before making those kinds of public comments. That violates the rules and norms of the Department of Justice, wouldn’t you agree?
Sally Yates: (01:14:47)
I certainly think that he should have consulted with us, yes.
Senator Cornyn: (01:14:52)
He said he thought that Loretta Lynch had a conflict of interest because of the tarmac meeting between President Clinton and the Attorney General during the course of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But that would not have prevented him from consulting with you. Did he do so?
Sally Yates: (01:15:14)
Well, did he consult with me on what precisely? I want to make sure I’m as accurate as possible here.
Senator Cornyn: (01:15:20)
Did he consult with you on the Hillary Clinton investigation and his intentions to go public with the investigation and usurp the role of the Department of Justice when it comes to whether to charge or not charge somebody with a crime? Did he talk to you about that ahead of time?
Sally Yates: (01:15:38)
We did not have a substantive discussion about it ahead of time, no.
Senator Cornyn: (01:15:42)
Does that surprise you? I mean, you’re the direct supervisor of the FBI director. If he didn’t consult with you or tell you what he was doing or he didn’t respond to your inquiries about it, wouldn’t that strike you as highly unusual?
Sally Yates: (01:16:02)
It’s not ideal.
Senator Cornyn: (01:16:04)
Not ideal. Well, that’s quite an understatement.
Sally Yates: (01:16:07)
It is an understatement, Senator.
Senator Cornyn: (01:16:10)
Okay, we’ll agree on that. So on May the ninth, 2017, Rod Rosenstein, your successor as Deputy Attorney General, wrote a memo with regard to Director Comey’s activities. During which he said that Director Comey did violate the norms and rules of the Department of Justice. And he said since he showed no remorse and was likely to repeat that conduct again, that he recommended his dismissal. Did you agree with Rod Rosenstein’s analysis in that memo?
Sally Yates: (01:16:44)
Senator, I’m not going to weigh in on what a successor of mine, a decision that he made when he was in [inaudible 00:12:49].
Senator Cornyn: (01:16:49)
You’re not going to answer my question.
Sally Yates: (01:16:55)
Well, I just don’t think it’s appropriate for me to weigh in on that [crosstalk 01:16:58].
Senator Cornyn: (01:16:56)
Well, I’m not asking you to weigh in Ms. Yates, I’m asking you to answer a question about the highest levels of the Department of Justice and whether this is the new norm or whether Director Comey violated those norms and his dismissal was justified on that basis. You have no opinion about that?
Sally Yates: (01:17:18)
Senator, I’m not going to weigh in on whether Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s memo was accurate or not. But I will say that I was concerned at the time, regardless of how out of bounds Director Comey may have been in the actions that he took on the Clinton case. I was concerned that that was used as subterfuge for the real reason to fire him.
Senator Cornyn: (01:17:44)
Well, it strikes me that Director Comey was out of control and as his direct supervisor, I assumed that you would be concerned about that and you might’ve called him to task for that and ask him to change his conduct.
Mr. Graham: (01:17:59)
Senator Durbin: (01:18:06)
Ms. Yates, welcome back.
Sally Yates: (01:18:08)
Senator Durbin: (01:18:10)
And let me congratulate you before I go any further. Today marks the second time during the Trump administration that you’ve testified before this committee. That some of appearances equals the total number of times that Attorney General Sessions, Acting Attorney General Whitaker and Attorney General Barr have appeared before this committee in their official capacity combined. So congratulations, we can’t seem to bring the Attorney General here, but former Attorney Generals are always welcome. Thank you very much for being here. I’d like to ask for a moment for a reflection on Michael Flynn and ask about the following. Flynn apparently had suspicious contacts with Russia starting at least in 2015, when he sat next to Vladimir Putin at a dinner in Moscow. Flynn accepted payments from multiple Russian entities like RT, Kaspersky Labs, the Volga Airlines, and he failed to report these payments on his financial disclosure forms when he became National Security Advisor to President Trump.
Senator Durbin: (01:19:17)
According to the Mueller Report during the 2016 campaign, Flynn worked with individuals who claim to be in contact with Russian affiliated hackers in an effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails. Flynn also signed a contract to work with the Turkish government during the campaign. And he lied about his work for Turkey on his foreign affairs registration act filings. In December of 2016, Flynn had four phone conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, in which he urged Russia not to respond to U.S. sanctions that the Obama administration has had imposed because of Russian election interference in the United States. And that is a policy difference, I think, that has been alluded to. At no point during these calls did Flynn express any disapproval of Russia’s election interference in the United States. Ms. Yates, understanding that you can’t get into classified details, can you tell us whether the administration was specifically surveilling Michael Flynn when it had identified these phone calls with Kislyak?
Sally Yates: (01:20:20)
The administration was absolutely not, was not surveilling Michael Flynn. As I think I mentioned in the opening, President Obama … we were all trying to figure out why isn’t the Russians aren’t responding now, aren’t retaliating after the sanctions as they had indicated that they would. And that’s when the FBI discovered the conversations with Ambassador Kislyak.
Senator Durbin: (01:20:41)
So the policy difference here, apparently was the belief the Obama administration is that Putin should pay a price for interfering in the United States election by imposing sanctions on Russia. And what appears to be a phone call from Flynn aspiring to be the National Security Advisor to the new president, tell him, don’t worry about it. And you were wondering why Putin was not responding and considering whether this phone call had an impact on it, is that true?
Sally Yates: (01:21:13)
That’s right, Senator. Punishing and deterring the Russians for trying to [blow 01:21:20] our election doesn’t seem like a policy to me, it seems like that that’s something that all Americans would support.
Senator Durbin: (01:21:29)
Yes, I would think they would, certainly someone aspiring to be the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States. Flynn later lied about his conversations with Kislyak to the FBI and to Vice President Pence, denying that he talked about sanctions. Stepped down as National Security Advisor in February, 2017, but before he did, Ms. Yates, on January 26th and 27th of 2017, you briefed White House counsel, Don McGahn about Michael Flynn. You shared the Justice Department’s concern about Flynn’s communications with Russia, his dishonesty about those communications and his vulnerability to blackmail. Is that correct?
Sally Yates: (01:22:10)
Senator Durbin: (01:22:11)
Yet, unbelievably after you had briefed the White House counsel about Flynn’s vulnerability to blackmail and his dishonesty on January 28th, 2017, President Trump spoke on the phone for nearly an hour with Vladimir Putin while General Flynn sat in the Oval Office with him. Is that a fact?
Sally Yates: (01:22:35)
That’s what I read, I don’t know that personally, but I have read that.
Senator Durbin: (01:22:41)
Well, I’ve read it and seen it. I understand there’s a White House photo showing General Flynn sitting in the Oval Office during that call. Ms. Yates, in your view, was it appropriate for Michael Flynn to sit in on phone calls with Vladimir Putin after you’d provided your briefings to Don McGahn?
Sally Yates: (01:22:57)
Well, Senator, [inaudible 01:22:59] brief Don McGahn, we made it very clear to them that we weren’t providing them this information so that they could take action. And so certainly it would be surprising to me that of all things you would have General Flynn sitting in on a phone call with Vladimir Putin.
Senator Durbin: (01:23:16)
And what kind of message do you think it sent to Russia for Flynn to be involved in that call?
Sally Yates: (01:23:22)
It seems like it sends the same kind of message that General Flynn was sending in the phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak, which is, don’t worry about the interference.
Senator Durbin: (01:23:32)
If you believe that Russian interference in American elections is a threat to our democracy and I do and most others do as well, then this approach by General Flynn is antithetical to what we consider to be the basic fundamentals of our nation. And a man, certainly a man aspiring to be National Security Advisor to the President should know better. Mr. Chairman, I yield.
Mr. Graham: (01:23:56)
Thank you. Yeah, I remember the conversation with President Obama and Medvedev, or I can’t remember the prime minister’s name, after the election, I’ll have more latitude. I remember the reset button. So maybe the administration’s want to change positions with different countries is not so unusual. But very quickly before Senator Lee, did you know of efforts by Russia to interfere in the election before the election itself?
Sally Yates: (01:24:24)
Mr. Graham: (01:24:25)
Did you impose any sanctions before the election?
Sally Yates: (01:24:29)
Well, I don’t have the authority to impose any sanctions.
Mr. Graham: (01:24:31)
What did you do to try to stop the Russians before the election?
Sally Yates: (01:24:35)
Well, there was a lot, Senator. I think you may recall in October, there was an intelligence briefing, a public briefing that was done-
Mr. Graham: (01:24:41)
What did you do to stop the Russians? Specifically.
Sally Yates: (01:24:46)
What did I personally do?
Mr. Graham: (01:24:48)
What did the administration do to stop the Russians from interfering after they knew they were trying?
Sally Yates: (01:24:53)
My understanding is Senator, that the intelligence community of the administration, this is not something the Deputy Attorney General would be involved in [crosstalk 00:21: 01].
Mr. Graham: (01:25:01)
What did they do, what did they do? Did they impose sanctions?
Sally Yates: (01:25:07)
They did not impose sanctions until after the [crosstalk 01:25:09].
Mr. Graham: (01:25:09)
Did they call the Russians up say, stop?
Sally Yates: (01:25:12)
Actually, I do believe that there were communications with the Russians in that regard-
Mr. Graham: (01:25:16)
Do you agree with me it didn’t work?
Sally Yates: (01:25:17)
If I could finish my answer, Senator. There was concern at the time and this was in connection with the October public statement that was made. That the Obama administration wanted to be very careful that it wasn’t doing anything that would impact the election or be perceived to be impacting the election. And so the information that was put out then was to make sure, for example, when the Russians were rooting around in the state election systems, to put out the information, which by the way, there was no evidence that it actually impacted or that they were able to get into anything that would impact [crosstalk 01:25:52].
Mr. Graham: (01:25:51)
I agree with that.
Sally Yates: (01:25:54)
… about that. When they were rooting around in there, the Obama administration was contacting the states and trying to make sure that they understood they needed to shore it up. My further understanding is they wanted to make a bipartisan statement at that point. And there were folks on your side of the aisle that refused to participate.
Mr. Graham: (01:26:15)
Yeah, but here’s my point. You knew the Russians were up to no good and you did nothing about it effectively. So we don’t need a lecture from the Obama administration about being tough on Russia. You had plenty of knowledge and apparently nothing happened. Senator Lee.
Senator Lee: (01:26:31)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Yates, while you were the Deputy Attorney General, was it your policy that both administrations should be treated equally? That is, would there have been any reason from a Department of Justice standpoint to approach an Obama administration official differently from a Trump administration official?
Sally Yates: (01:26:53)
No, Senator, we didn’t. And in fact, we make that very determination when I was really insistent that we notify the White House about General Flynn. It was in part because I wanted to make sure that we were treating the Trump administration the same way that we would the Obama administration.
Senator Lee: (01:27:12)
Okay, so had that occurred here, what would that have consisted of? What would it have looked like had you treated an official from the Trump administration the same as you would have in the Obama administration? Who would have been notified before any of this could have proceeded?
Sally Yates: (01:27:27)
Well, [inaudible 01:27:29] we did do the same thing. We did go to the White House and notify the White House counsel about what we had learned about General Flynn. What would have been different though is with respect … I’m not sure why my lights just went out. What would have been different is that with respect to the interview of General Flynn, from a protocol standpoint, I would have notified the White House counsel in advance before that interview.
Senator Lee: (01:27:55)
Okay. Did anything like that happen here? I mean, was anyone from the Trump team notified?
Sally Yates: (01:28:03)
Prior to the interview, no. That was one of my concerns about it, but this was a protocol issue, not a legal issue.
Senator Lee: (01:28:11)
Okay. But that was certainly something that would have been an irregularity. You’ve acknowledged then that the Obama administration treated the incoming Trump administration differently. The Department of Justice treated the incoming Trump administration differently than it would have the Obama administration.
Sally Yates: (01:28:29)
No, Senator, we were working really hard to make sure that we did not treat them differently.
Senator Lee: (01:28:33)
Yeah, yeah, I understand you were working hard to do that, but that wasn’t in fact, the outcome. The protocol was different, you deviated from the ordinary protocol.
Sally Yates: (01:28:42)
Well, the difference in the protocol here is that the FBI conducted the interview of General Flynn without a courtesy call to the White House counsel.
Senator Lee: (01:28:59)
Okay. When you told Director Comey that there should have been a discussion about recording the interview, in raising these things with Comey, he responded with something like, “You can understand why I did this.” To which, according to your 302, you responded, no, and Comey responded he didn’t want to look political. And the 302 also notes that you were offended by that implication. Can you elaborate on this? Tell me why you were offended and what specifically offended you.
Sally Yates: (01:29:36)
Senator, as you probably heard me say too many times now, I was a prosecutor at DOJ for almost 30 years. I prosecuted a public corruption cases as an AUSA, Democrats and Republicans. And the way we do our job, or did our job at DOJ was that you don’t consider political implications in making prosecutive or investigative decisions. And I was offended by Director Comey’s implication that he would be perceived differently than I would.
Senator Lee: (01:30:10)
Got it, got it. Let me ask you, was it irregular for agents to plan, to attempt to quote, “Get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired” before the interview, as stated in Bill Priestap’s notes? Is that an irregularity?
Sally Yates: (01:30:30)
I’m sorry, Senator, I lost our wifi connection here. And all I heard was at the end, was that an irregularity. Would you mind repeating the question, please?
Senator Lee: (01:30:39)
Yes. For agents to plan to get, to quote, “Get him lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”
Sally Yates: (01:30:48)
Well, certainly that’s not an appropriate way for the FBI to conduct itself. I don’t believe that that’s what they did with respect to General Flynn. And I think if you read the 302, it’s pretty clear [inaudible 01:30:58].
Senator Lee: (01:30:58)
Is it irregular for McCabe to have pressured General Flynn to appear without counsel?
Sally Yates: (01:31:04)
I don’t think they did pressure him to appear without counsel.
Senator Lee: (01:31:10)
All right. Just to make clear, I want to get to the bottom of what went wrong. How was a FISA application to surveil an American citizen and a major party presidential campaign approved with 17 significant errors and omissions? And no one knew until the Department of Justice Inspector General conducted an audit. And audit, by the way, that would have never been conducted had the surveillance not involved the staffer of a future president’s campaign. Had President Trump lost in 2016, these significant errors and emissions would never have come to light, would they?
Sally Yates: (01:31:53)
No, I don’t know that. [inaudible 01:31:55] Inspector General Horowitz, I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a very thorough guy so I wouldn’t count on that necessarily being a different result then.
Senator Lee: (01:32:03)
Where you aware that agents were using information compiled by Christopher Steele at the request of the DNC at the time you signed either the initial Carter Page FISA application or the first renewal?
Sally Yates: (01:32:17)
I was not aware that the DNC was funding it, but I think we suspected that there was a chance, but we did not know that to be a fact. And in fact, the Inspector General did not identify that as an error, which by the way, not to quibble here, there were seven errors, not 17, in the FISAs that I signed, but one error is too many.
Senator Lee: (01:32:39)
Mr. Chairman, I thought I can ask one more brief question. Were you aware of the concerns with the reliability of the information that was provided by Christopher Steele and what we now refer to as the Steele Dossier, before signing either the initial Carter Page FISA application or the first renewal?
Sally Yates: (01:32:57)
No, I wasn’t Senator, and I think a lot of those concerns come from the interview of the sub source that took place after I signed both the original and the first renewal.
Senator Lee: (01:33:10)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I see my time’s expired.
Mr. Graham: (01:33:11)
Senator Whitehous: (01:33:13)
Thank you. Ms. Yates, let me ask you a couple of, I think pretty simple questions if you could hear me out here. The first is that the sort of origin story here is a telephone call between Ambassador Kislyak and General Flynn. You became aware of that in the course of regular counterintelligence activities, correct?
Sally Yates: (01:33:47)
Senator Whitehous: (01:33:49)
Were you surveilling General Flynn or were you surveilling Ambassador Kislyak?
Sally Yates: (01:33:58)
I can’t, I can tell you what we weren’t doing, and that is surveilling General Flynn. I’m still not permitted to tell you what we were doing. That’s still classified, much as I would like to tell you, I can’t.
Senator Whitehous: (01:34:10)
Got you. So we’ll just let logic follow through. It would not be unusual for a sovereign nation to monitor the communications of a rival nation’s ambassador, irrespective of which nation you’re in, correct? That’s pretty standard counterintelligence practice.
Sally Yates: (01:34:31)
If you don’t mind, Senator, I’m just not going to hint at that. I want to stay really clear on the classification rules here.
Senator Whitehous: (01:34:34)
But you’re being really clear that you are not surveilling General Flynn.
Sally Yates: (01:34:38)
Senator Whitehous: (01:34:40)
So the next thing you know, you know of this conversation because you’ve overheard it. And the White House at very high levels, including the Vice President, is denying that that conversation took place. The conversation that you knew happened. What is the counterintelligence problem with that set of circumstances, a National Security Advisor, who has had a conversation with a Russian ambassador that the Vice President is denying took place?
Sally Yates: (01:35:14)
Well, there’s a counterintelligence concern about the conversations to begin with given the fact that he was undercutting sanctions against the Russians for interfering in our election [crosstalk 00:31:27].
Senator Whitehous: (01:35:26)
Is it a counterintelligence problem if the Russians … does it raise the prospect that General Flynn had lied to the Vice President and that the Russian ambassador would know that and be able to exert leverage on the National Security Advisor?
Sally Yates: (01:35:40)
Exactly, Senator and I’ve said, layer on top of that, that he is then lying [crosstalk 01:35:46].
Senator Whitehous: (01:35:43)
There’s a larger policy question around it, but there’s a very specific issue right there, correct?
Sally Yates: (01:35:51)
Senator Whitehous: (01:35:51)
And it gives the Russians leverage against Mr. Flynn, possibly, General Flynn.
Sally Yates: (01:35:57)
[That was 01:35:59] our concern-
Senator Whitehous: (01:35:58)
That’s the counterintelligence concern?
Sally Yates: (01:36:01)
[inaudible 01:36:01] Yes.
Senator Whitehous: (01:36:03)
So let me take you to-
Senator Whitehous: (01:36:03)
Counter-intelligence concerns. Yeah.
Sally Yates: (01:36:03)
[inaudible 01:36:02]. Yes.
Senator Whitehous: (01:36:03)
So let me take you to a different question. You have been asked that, if you knew of the errors and omissions that the inspector general found in the FISA warrants, would you sign the warrant? And I think the answer that every prosecutor myself included, must give to that question is no, of course we would never submit to a court, a warrant application that we knew contained errors or omissions. That is correct. Is it not?
Sally Yates: (01:36:36)
Senator Whitehous: (01:36:36)
But that does not to my mind as somebody who’s been in that situation, that does not end the inquiry. The question then is, if you had been aware of the errors and omissions in the FISA warrant. One response would be to shut down the investigation and roll it up. A second would be to find out why the hell the errors and omissions were there, investigate the misconduct that led to that. But go ahead with the investigation because it remained predicated and worth pursuing. Both of those are possible options, are they not? I’m sorry.
Sally Yates: (01:37:21)
Yes they are. Both are possible options-
Senator Whitehous: (01:37:24)
And in fact, if we were in a situation in which any error or omission in a warrant affidavit ended the underlying investigation, a lot of criminal conduct and legitimate investigations would be improperly brought to a premature conclusion. Correct?
Senator Whitehous: (01:37:48)
I’m sorry. Say it again. We’re not-
Sally Yates: (01:37:49)
Yes, [inaudible 01:37:52].
Senator Whitehous: (01:37:51)
And that’s pretty standard prosecutor 101. If there’s something that you think might be wrong with a warrant that you’re being asked to sign, you get that fixed, but you don’t necessarily end the investigation, correct?
Senator Whitehous: (01:38:06)
You need to find out whether there is other evidence, other information that would support [inaudible 00:02:13]. But you would also want to get to the bottom of why it was you hadn’t been told the correct information.
Sally Yates: (01:38:16)
No, correct. You do an interior internal investigation to try to get to the bottom of why you were presented a warrant application with errors and omissions. But my point is a very simple one, that does not mean the end of the investigation necessarily.
Senator Whitehous: (01:38:30)
Sally Yates: (01:38:30)
In fact it’s not necessarily uncommon, you solve your problem. And you go ahead with your investigation if it’s properly predicated and justified, correct?
Senator Whitehous: (01:38:40)
Sally Yates: (01:38:41)
Mr. Graham: (01:38:42)
And on a stroke about partisanship. I agree with everything you just said. That’s exactly the way it should work. And I want to let Ms. Yates that I have no doubt that when she signed the application, she did so in good faith, relying on information to be truthful and that she would not have defrauded the court. And I have no belief that she did. Who next? Mr. Hawley, Senator Hawley.
Senator Hawley: (01:39:10)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you Ms. Yates for being here. Why don’t we just pick up right there. Because the chairman says that he has no doubt that you had no intent to defraud the court. I noticed when Mr. Rosenstein was here before this committee, I’m sure you saw his testimony or read it, a few weeks ago. He said that he couldn’t be to blame or otherwise be held accountable for the falsified FISA applications, the [inaudible 01:39:35] misstatements of fact. Because he just relied on the representations that were made to him. So we’re left wondering, I mean, who exactly is responsible here? It seems that nobody’s really responsible. Somehow or another, a federal court, a secret federal court was actively misled, lied to and presented with falsified evidence. But nobody and the chain of command is to blame. So let me just ask you about your own responsibility. Did you actually read these FISA applications?
Sally Yates: (01:40:05)
Yes I did.
Senator Hawley: (01:40:07)
You did. That’s your testimony today? That’s your testimony today?
Sally Yates: (01:40:09)
Yes I did.
Senator Hawley: (01:40:10)
You told the inspector general that you had no recollection actually of reviewing renewal application number one. Is that is your testimony today different?
Sally Yates: (01:40:20)
No, I think what I told the inspector general is I didn’t have a specific recollection of sitting at my desk and asking him questions about it. But I most assuredly reviewed it.
Senator Hawley: (01:40:30)
You said that you did not have any specific recollection of reviewing renewal application number one. But today you say you did? That’s great if you did, because I’d like to ask you some more detailed questions. I just want to get clear on this testimony.
Sally Yates: (01:40:43)
Yes, I did.
Senator Hawley: (01:40:45)
Interesting. Now you told the inspector general that the Carter Page FISA applications that you signed off on and that you now say that you read and carefully reviewed that these applications by the way, that contained multiple material misstatements and would later contained falsified evidence. You said that these were not a close call. You also told the [IG 01:42:38] that you thought that the application, the initial application and the renewals were appropriate steps and you didn’t have any qualms about them. Or do you recall what the FISA court said about these applications?
Sally Yates: (01:41:21)
Yes Senator. When I was speaking with the inspector general. I was referring to the applications based on the assumption that all of the information was accurate. What was learned later and what the FISA court was responding to later is that there were errors and omissions in-
Senator Hawley: (01:41:37)
The errors and omissions were there at the time that you signed off on them. Were they not? And you just testified that you read them closely. So they were there when you signed off on them, correct?
Sally Yates: (01:41:48)
That’s correct. They were-
Senator Hawley: (01:41:49)
Let me remind you what the FISA court said. I’ll just read this into the record. The FBI’s handling of the Carter Page applications, which you approved and you now say read, “Was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor owed to the court. The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case calls into question, whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable.” Are you still of the view that these applications were not a close call at all? And you would do the same thing now? I mean, these were appropriate steps I think was your testimony to the IG, do you stand by that?
Sally Yates: (01:42:39)
Yes, Senator. I think if you properly put my testimony in context when I spoke with the inspector general. I was referring to the decision that I made at the time based on the factual information that was presented to me and known-
Senator Hawley: (01:42:51)
So you were a passive party in this? I mean, you did testify now in contrast to what you testified to the IG earlier. But you’re telling us now today, you did read the applications. But you were also duped by the FBI and so it’s for that reason you signed off on misleading applications that a FISA court said were so bad and so misleading they call into question all of the submissions by the FBI. So you are a passive party? Is that your testimony today?
Sally Yates: (01:43:17)
No, sir. Senator, I was not passive at all. I was-
Senator Hawley: (01:43:20)
What did you do to actually exert some sort of control and exercise responsibility? And let me just ask you this. What responsibility do you bear for the deliberate and systematic misleading of a secret federal court?
Sally Yates: (01:43:35)
As the deputy attorney general and the number two person at the justice department. I was responsible for the actions of every single employee at DOJ. All 113,000 of them. That includes everybody at FBI and DEA and ATF and all the US attorney’s officers and all the lawyers at the department of justice. I was responsible and that sets for the actions of all of them.
Senator Hawley: (01:43:58)
So do you regret the fact that you signed applications that it contained false and misleading material that a court says now calls into question their ability to rely on anything that the FBI says?
Sally Yates: (01:44:08)
I certainly regret that the department of justice submitted with the FBI, FISA applications that were inaccurate. I think that is antithetical to our responsibility to the FISA court. I think it is also inconsistent with what my experience with the FBI had been, in terms of their preparation of affidavits and the accuracy of that.
Senator Hawley: (01:44:30)
Let me just ask you about one other thing. Mr. Chairman, I see my time has expired. So just one final question. I noticed that you said Ms. Yates to the IG, that you didn’t know who Christopher Steele was working for. In fact, you opined to the IG that you thought maybe he was working for the Republican party. Course we know from Steele himself, Steele told the IG that he, Steele, told the FBI in July of 2016, that he’d been hired by the Democrats. We also know that your deputy, Bruce Ohr, knew that Steele was working for the Democrats. And the same deputy, Bruce Ohr, your deputy while he was working for you was actively facilitating contacts between the FBI and Steele. And also between the state department and Steele. How did this happen on your watch? Is it normal for you to permit your deputies to facilitate contacts between political parties and the FBI and the state department? Is that routine behavior?
Sally Yates: (01:45:31)
[inaudible 01:45:31] permitting Bruce Ohr to [inaudible 01:45:32] the inspector general found, I was completely unaware of Bruce Ohr’s actions.
Senator Hawley: (01:45:39)
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. Can you repeat that?
Sally Yates: (01:45:41)
I wasn’t allowing Bruce Ohr to do anything as the inspector general found in the IG report to which you referred, that I was completely unaware of Bruce Ohr’s actions. And Bruce Ohr had no involvement from [inaudible 01:45:56] in any of the Russian investigation or the Carter Page FISAs.
Senator Hawley: (01:46:00)
I would say in conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I seem to detect a pattern here. Ms. Yates testified. She has no idea what her deputy is doing. I see facilitates contact between a political party opposition research and the FBI. She has no idea that these applications that she signed materially misled a federal court, just as Rosenstein said, he had no idea. Nobody appears to know anything in this government. And yet somehow a federal court was deliberately and systematically misled. So severely that they now say they can’t trust anything that the FBI did. If this doesn’t call for a cleaning of house at DOJ and the FBI, I don’t know what is. And I just know that Bruce Ohr is still on the payroll at the department of justice. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Graham: (01:46:41)
Senator Coons. I’m sorry. We’re on a five minute break. I apologize Ms. Yates. We’ll take a break from Ms. Yates.
Speaker 2: (01:46:51)
Mr. Chairman, I see no reason for those remarks. They’re inflammatory. I think the witness ought to be able to respond if she chooses.
Mr. Graham: (01:47:00)
She certainly may. And let me just get my 2 cents worth. I don’t think they’re inflammatory at all. I think it’s the truth. Bruce Ohr’s [inaudible 01:47:08] going rogue. You’ve got her deputy orchestrating interviews and meetings. And he tells the FBI in November, you need to watch Steele. What the hell is going on over there? That’s why were doing this.
Senator Hawley: (01:47:20)
Since my remarks are the ones that are just challenged, Mr. Chairman. I’ll just say with all due respect, we have a deliberate and systematic misleading of a federal court here. I don’t think you can say anything more inflammatory than what the federal court itself said when they issued an incredible statement. I’ve never seen a federal court, let alone the FISA court issue, saying that they now had no confidence in any of the submissions of the FBI, based on the level of lying.
Mr. Graham: (01:47:44)
Everybody’s to blame and nobody’s to blame is the problem we have. We’ll take a five minute break and we’ll let her respond.
Sally Yates: (01:47:53)
Let me have a five minute break so I don’t know.
Speaker 3: (01:47:57)
Well good they can take it.
Speaker 3: (01:47:59)
Senator Whitehous: (01:54:50)
As an established fact that the FBI agent or the state police officer who filed the affidavit was telling us the truth.
Mr. Graham: (01:54:57)
I couldn’t agree with you more.
Senator Whitehous: (01:54:59)
It is not customary prosecutorial practice to do an inquisition or a review of every factual statement made by an FBI agent or a state police officer in preparing a warrant. If you have the slightest hint that something is wrong, you definitely pursue that. But the focus is more, does this warrant fit the criminal case that we are making. And that is the nature of the review at that level. And you would hope that the factual stuff would be sorted out before it got to the deputy attorney general.
Mr. Graham: (01:55:35)
I think that is a fair rendition of the way the system plays out. And I know people are frustrated about accountability. But I think Rosenstein probably did… What you’re talking about, Ms. Yates did the same thing.
Senator Whitehous: (01:55:48)
Ms. Yates owns accountability for this by virtue of her position, having overall responsibility-
Mr. Graham: (01:55:52)
I agree with you.
Senator Whitehous: (01:55:52)
That’s a different specific question.
Mr. Graham: (01:55:55)
I’ll just state for the record. I don’t believe Rosenstein or Ms. Yates intentionally submitted false information to the court. With that, Senator Klobuchar is next.
Senator Klobuchar: (01:56:12)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Graham: (01:56:15)
Ms. Yates, there you go. That’s Ms. Klobuchar.
Senator Klobuchar: (01:56:16)
Okay, good to see you Ms. Yates. I want to take a moment having been listening to the last questions. I want to take a moment to actually thank you for your dedicated service to our country. I have spent some time in your state of Georgia and now how respected you are from your time as US attorney on both sides of the aisle. And also all that you did is such an example for career employees in the justice department because that was you. And you’ve spent your career working on justice. And so I want to thank you for that. And don’t want the people watching this hearing to have a different impression of you, who I greatly admire.
Senator Klobuchar: (01:57:01)
And I think it’s really important as we look at Senator Hawley’s questionings, not to lose sight of the context in which the investigations into Michael Flynn and Carter Page took place, which was a concerted Russian effort to interfere with our elections. An effort that continues to this day. We all know that. Many of it’s been public. And we recently had some classified briefings that I can’t go into. But we know this is continuing. As deputy attorney general, you received and reviewed intelligence about Russian interference in our 2016 election and helped to coordinate the response. What was your understanding of that attack? Which by the way, has been verified by Trump intelligence officials, people that were appointed by this President. Including Dan Coats, the director of intelligence, who once said that they were emboldened and getting bolder. Including Christopher Wray has said similar things. Has the United States ever confronted a coordinated effort by a foreign power of this magnitude to interfere in our election?
Sally Yates: (01:58:10)
First, let me thank you for your very kind words Senator Klobuchar. I really appreciate that. But secondly, your point is actually spot on. That the attack and let’s be really clear about this. This was an attack on our democracy. And this attack was absolutely unprecedented. The Russians were coming at us through multiple [inaudible 00:22:36]. There was an organized effort to break into the DNC and to hack the emails and to systematically release them. There was a social media campaign aimed at Hillary Clinton. As I said, they were mucking around in the state election systems.
Sally Yates: (01:58:52)
All of this is going on. And then we find that it is for the purpose of trying to put a thumb on the scale for one particular candidate here, to try to aid the election of Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton. And then beyond that, we find out then early on from Mr. Papadopoulos, that the Russians had actually reached out to the Trump campaign prior to this release of emails offering and suggesting that they could assist with the anonymous release of email. So this was an unprecedented attack on our democracy. And an investigation that required all of the intel community and everybody else to really bore down on this to try to figure out what happened.
Senator Klobuchar: (01:59:40)
And when you last testified before this committee in May of 2017, we talked about the dangers of having a high ranking security official, like former national security advisor Mike Flynn, caught on tape with a foreign official saying one thing in private and then caught in public saying another thing to the Vice President of the United States. That would be Vice President Pence. Just so we are clear on the dangers of national security officials being compromised in this way. Can you talk about the national security risks of blackmail?
Sally Yates: (02:00:15)
This is a classic technique of the Russians. But you don’t want anybody within the US government to be compromised with a foreign adversary. But here, our great concern was that the Russians knew that General Flynn had not only engaged in these back-channel discussions with him, but that he was misleading. He had lied about it to the Vice President and others. And beyond just lying to them, he had actually sent them out to lie to the American people about-
Senator Klobuchar: (02:00:46)
Remember that case with the Vice President who didn’t [inaudible 02:00:49] and he was lied to by Flynn.
Sally Yates: (02:00:51)
That’s right. And it seems like a lifetime ago right now. Bu it was a big thing at the time. And exactly the kind of thing that we were fearful about that would give the Russians potentially leverage over General Flynn.
Senator Klobuchar: (02:01:05)
And just last things I wanted to ask about here, is this special counsel found that Russian interference in our election was, “Sweeping and systematic.” And the investigation ultimately, as you know, resulted in 34 indictments of individuals and convictions of six of the President’s associates advisors on federal charges. Are you aware of any facts, that call into question that finding in the special counsel’s report that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 Presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion or that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and work to secure the outcome?
Sally Yates: (02:01:43)
Not only am I not aware of anything inconsistent. I believe the bipartisan Senate intelligence committee came to the same conclusion.
Senator Klobuchar: (02:01:51)
They did. Are you aware of any facts that call into question the assessment of FBI director Wray, that Russia’s interference in our elections is ongoing and that it’s interference in the 2018 midterms was in his words, a dress rehearsal for the 2020 elections.
Senator Klobuchar: (02:02:09)
Now and in fact, I think that’s something that we all need to really be vigilant about. Is that this is not just something that happened in the past, this is happening right now as we sit here today.
Senator Klobuchar: (02:02:19)
Exactly. And in fact that there are people that have been appointed by President Trump who are well aware of this, and actually working to make sure that a foreign country does not, is not able to influence our election. But as you know, one of the ways they do this, is not just trying to hack into all 50 States election systems, which they tried. It is also about what goes out on social media. And so that is where a lot of our education efforts have to go. Because a lot of the stuff is just false things that people say about candidates. Are you aware of any facts that call into question the findings in the special counsel’s report, that lay out more than 120 contacts between the Trump campaign back in that time period of 2016 and individuals linked to Russia?
Sally Yates: (02:03:07)
No, I’m not.
Senator Klobuchar: (02:03:09)
All right. Thank you very much.
Sally Yates: (02:03:11)
Thank you, Senator.
Mr. Graham: (02:03:15)
Thank you. I want to make sure that we understand what happened here. You mentioned Mr. Papadopoulos. Are you saying that Mr. Papadopoulos met with Russians on behalf of the campaign?
Sally Yates: (02:03:24)
I’m saying that Mr. Papadopoulos. [inaudible 02:03:26] you know Senator Graham, was approached by an individual who was associated with-
Mr. Graham: (02:03:31)
No, that’s not my question. Is there any evidence Mr. Papadopoulos met with Russians on behalf of the campaign?
Sally Yates: (02:03:40)
Mr. Papadopoulos was a foreign policy advisor for the campaign and met with an individual associated with-
Mr. Graham: (02:03:47)
See Mr. Papadopoulos, was he charged with colluding with the Russians?
Sally Yates: (02:03:53)
Senator Graham, you’re forgetting about the context of the timing-
Mr. Graham: (02:03:58)
What I don’t want to do, with all due respect, is that the Mueller report is out. Nobody got indited and we’re not going to go after these people twice. And suggest that they’re treasonous because in the Papadopoulos transcribed interviews, he didn’t know about. He said, “To work with the Russians would be treason. I would never do that.” I just don’t want to bring these people back up and suggest they did something they didn’t do.
Sally Yates: (02:04:24)
[inaudible 02:04:24] mention treason with Mr. Papadopoulos at all. As I think you know, well yes he talked to a confidential human source, he denied this. But we now know that the information that he provided to the foreign intelligence official in August was absolutely correct. He was getting information-
Mr. Graham: (02:04:48)
Was he a Russian agent?
Sally Yates: (02:04:52)
He was connected with Russian intelligence.
Mr. Graham: (02:04:55)
Really? Man, that’s a new revelation. Senator Tillis.
Senator Tillis: (02:05:02)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Yates, one thing you may want to do is pull up a little bit closer to the mic if you can. We’re hearing you, but I think we’re straining to hear. In response to some of Chair Graham’s questions and Senator Cornyn’s question. You characterized Comey, I think you said that when Senator Graham used the word rogue, you said that’s a word you could use. And Senator Cornyn’s discussion with you. You said that there was certainly a violation of some of the rules of the norms and some of the behavior of those involved in the investigation was not ideal. Now what about Mr. Ohr, could we use similar words to describe Mr. Ohr’s behavior over the course of this investigation?
Sally Yates: (02:05:50)
Well, let me clarify one thing here, because I think it’s important that we be accurate. I said that Director Comey’s decision to go interview General Flynn without coordinating that interview with us could be characterized as rogue. I was not characterizing Director Comey generally as rogue. So I think it’s important to be accurate and fair there. Now with respect to-
Senator Tillis: (02:06:15)
Go ahead Ms. Yates, on Mr. Ohr. Mr. Ohr, in terms of his behavior. I know back in November of 2016, he was apparently aware that Steele was desperate to prevent President Trump from being elected. Was that information shared with you in the [crosstalk 02:06:33] days or weeks.
Sally Yates: (02:06:33)
No it was not. I’m sorry. [inaudible 00:30:38]. None of that information was shared with me. And I don’t think that Bruce Ohr should have been having those conversations without telling us at the justice department.
Senator Tillis: (02:06:45)
Yep. You were in the department of justice for 27 years and thank you for your service. If you take a look at… I’m not an attorney, I’m not a prosecutor, but I have read Horowitz’s report. Does any of that just make you angry with the lack of what I consider to be professionalism? These folks that were involved in this investigation are highly trained and educated. Is it fair to say that there weren’t any rookies put in a position to provide you with evidence or provide you with information to make a decision?
Sally Yates: (02:07:21)
Well, I would certainly agree with you that the errors and omissions here were totally unacceptable and-
Senator Tillis: (02:07:29)
I’m sorry, Ms… And honestly, I think a lot of people are interrupting you, it has to do with delay and the fact that we’re virtual. So I apologize for that. But it just seems to me, the cynic in may makes it hard to believe when they knew what they knew about the credibility of the Steele dossier, that they wouldn’t think that’s important to bring up the chain of command when you’re making critical decisions. Is that something that you felt like anybody in that whole process, anyone. Whether they were working for you, or around-
Senator Tillis: (02:08:03)
… Whether they were working for you, or around you, leading up to information that you were acting on. It seems to me that some of these people should’ve been disciplined or fired. Do you agree with that?
Sally Yates: (02:08:13)
Look, I don’t know what is going on within the FBI and their internal discipline process, so I can’t speak to that. I can say that I believe that this information should have been provided to the lawyers in the National Security Division who were working with them on the FISA applications. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But also-
Senator Tillis: (02:08:29)
But just getting aside … I’m sorry, go ahead, Ms. Yates.
Sally Yates: (02:08:33)
… But I also trust Inspector General Horwitz’s conclusion that he did not find any evidence that any of these agents were acting with bias or any kind of political motive. When I looked at and read the Horowitz report to try to figure out, even though I was no longer an office anymore, what went wrong, what you seem to have are agents who superimposed and used their own judgment for what was material, or what was exculpatory, and decided then what they would provide to the lawyers in the national security division. That’s not how it should work. They should be giving all of that information to the lawyers in NSD so that those lawyers can make that determination.
Senator Tillis: (02:09:16)
Ms. Yates, could you at least understand if you combine some of their actions, their errors and omissions, and some of the personal communications between some of those involved, why a skeptic would maybe find it hard to believe to take a generous view of it just being an honest mistake?
Sally Yates: (02:09:33)
Well, Senator, the Inspector General reviewed over a million documents. I believe he did over 170 interviews. So, I think he’s in a better position than I am to be able to answer that question. He found, again, that there was no evidence of bias or a political motive.
Senator Tillis: (02:09:51)
Ms. Yates, do you believe the DOJ can actually charge someone under the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (02:10:06)
Can it? Frankly, Senator, I’ve never engaged in that analysis because we were not at a point of making a final determination as to whether General Flynn would be charged under the Logan Act. But as I was trying to make clear to Senator Graham, that was not the person through which we were examining this. We were examining these charges-
Senator Tillis: (02:10:26)
Did you ever seriously consider a prosecuting Flynn under the Logan Act?
Sally Yates: (02:10:31)
We didn’t make an official decision when I was there, but I believed it was very unlikely that we would prosecute him under the Logan Act. Again, it was a counter intelligence threat, not a criminal prosecution of the Logan Act, that was the focus.
Senator Tillis: (02:10:45)
Thank you, Ms. Yates.
Mr. Graham: (02:10:47)
Senator Coons: (02:10:49)
Thank you, Chairman Graham and a ranking member Feinstein. Thank you, Ms. Yates for your 27 years of service to the United States Department of Justice and for your testimony here today. Let me just begin at the outset as a framing here. Do you have any doubt that Russia attacked the United States during the 2016 presidential election with the intention of changing the outcome, or influencing the outcome of that election?
Sally Yates: (02:11:14)
Senator Coons: (02:11:16)
Do you have any reason to be concerned that the Russians may in fact be trying to do that again for the 2020 election?
Sally Yates: (02:11:23)
I think all of us should be very concerned about that, Senator, as our intelligence community is trying to tell us.
Senator Coons: (02:11:31)
Let me go back to some issues that have been touched on before, but make sure we’ve had a chance to explore them. Carter Page was never charged in the Russia investigation, and out of the whole 448 pages of the Mueller report, only eight pages pertained to Carter Page, but there’s been some focus on it today. So, just tell us briefly if you would, when did you learn of the errors in the Carter Page FISA application?
Sally Yates: (02:11:59)
Oh, long after I left office.
Senator Coons: (02:12:02)
When that FISA application reached your desk as Deputy Attorney General, after several layers of departmental review, what were you looking for? When you were viewed that, what were you looking for, and what was appropriate for you to be looking for?
Sally Yates: (02:12:19)
Thank you for that, Senator, because I would like to explain what the process is for FISA. I was looking to determine whether or not, given the facts that had been sworn to in the affidavit from the FBI, whether that met the legal standard for FISA. You’re right, it’s not just several layers of review. There were seven different layers of review at the Department of Justice. I would expect a similar number of layers of review at the FBI. There had been quite a good bit of back and forth before the original FISA was signed. There was about a month of back and forth between the national security division lawyers and the agents at the FBI.
Senator Coons: (02:13:01)
When you did ultimately learn that there were errors in that, did that strike you as inappropriate? Uncalled for? In violation of practice and tradition?
Sally Yates: (02:13:12)
Absolutely. As I’ve said, not only was it unacceptable, I have great concern about how this impacts a department’s credibility, both with the FISA court and otherwise. That’s why it is incumbent upon department lawyers and agents, not just in a high profile case, but in any case, to work hard, to be absolutely scrupulously accurate and every single document that is filed.
Senator Coons: (02:13:38)
So, when you went to the White House on January 26th, you had something serious to tell White House Counsel, Don McGahn. You went to tell him, if I understand correctly, that the President’s National Security Advisor General Flynn could be blackmailed because he was lying about the content of his conversations with the Russians. Is there any doubt in your mind that General Flynn lied about his conversations with the Russians?
Sally Yates: (02:14:05)
No, there’s not.
Senator Coons: (02:14:07)
General Flynn, in fact, pled guilty to lying to the FBI. Some have called lying to the FBI, which is a felony by the way, a process crime. Could you explain why lying to the FBI, in the context that we’re talking about here, strikes at the very heart of the criminal justice system?
Sally Yates: (02:14:28)
Certainly, Senator. Well, first in connection with any investigation, the only way that the Department of Justice can go about its job is if people, when they are interviewed by the FBI are truthful and candid and provide complete information. That’s the only way to be able to sift through and figure out what the facts are and to be able to determine if charges should be filed. In this instance-
Senator Coons: (02:14:53)
Given your knowledge, if I could. Given your knowledge of the Flynn case and your 27-year career at justice, were you surprised when DOJ moved to dismiss the case after General Flynn had pled guilty to lying to the FBI?
Sally Yates: (02:15:07)
I was very surprised by that.
Senator Coons: (02:15:10)
Let me ask a closing question. If you could, why was it important to interview General Flynn? What was the purpose that underlay questioning General Flynn?
Sally Yates: (02:15:21)
General Flynn had conversations with the Russian ambassador. Back channel, secret conversations, neutering the sanctions to the US government, and had been covering it up, had been providing false information to the Vice President and others to put out publicly.
Sally Yates: (02:15:38)
We, we being the government, needed to know what was going on here. Was General Flynn acting on his own? Or was he working with others? Because the investigators needed to be able to figure out what the relationship was between the campaign and the Russians.
Sally Yates: (02:15:55)
Had General Flynn been honest, had he told them the truth in this interview, then the agents would have learned then what they only learned much, much later after he finally told the truth, and that is that these were not off the cuff conversations that he was having with the Russian ambassador. But rather these were conversations that were carefully organized and planned with other members of the Trump transition, and that he also had been very careful to lie about and cover up, even to the point of sending his deputy out when the news first broke of this, to call the Washington Post and to give them false information, and to say that he had never discussed sanctions at all. The coverup continued after that, as he told lies to more and more people.
Senator Coons: (02:16:43)
Well, thank you, Ms. Yates. Thank you for your testimony and for your service to our nation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Graham: (02:16:48)
Thank you. Did what General Flynn do, did he commit a crime, ma’am?
Sally Yates: (02:16:56)
When you say, “What General Flynn did,” which part are you talking about?
Mr. Graham: (02:16:56)
Was it a crime?
Sally Yates: (02:16:58)
Mr. Graham: (02:16:59)
Talking to the Russian ambassador?
Sally Yates: (02:17:03)
Again, Senator, I know I’m a broken record on this. We were doing a counter-intelligence investigation at that point, criminal investigation.
Mr. Graham: (02:17:12)
Okay, thank you. Senator Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy: (02:17:16)
Counselor, thank you for appearing today voluntarily. Did Donald Trump violate the law by colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election?
Sally Yates: (02:17:34)
Special Counsel Mueller found that there was insufficient evidence to establish a conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russian campaign.
Senator Kennedy: (02:17:41)
You agree with that?
Sally Yates: (02:17:45)
I’m in no position to be … I wasn’t part of that investigation. I’ve read the Mueller report like I presume all of you.
Senator Kennedy: (02:17:51)
So, there’s some doubt in your mind?
Sally Yates: (02:17:54)
Senator, I didn’t say that. I just don’t think that I’m in a position to opine on that when all I’ve done is read the Mueller report.
Senator Kennedy: (02:18:00)
You just can’t bring yourself to say that he didn’t violate the law?
Sally Yates: (02:18:05)
No. Senator, you’re putting words in my mouth.
Senator Kennedy: (02:18:08)
No ma’am. That was a question.
Sally Yates: (02:18:11)
I certainly accept and trust Special Counsel Mueller in his determination that there was insufficient evidence for that. I accept that.
Senator Kennedy: (02:18:20)
You don’t like Donald Trump, do you?
Sally Yates: (02:18:24)
I don’t respect the manner in which he has carried out the Presidency.
Senator Kennedy: (02:18:28)
Okay. You despise Donald Trump, don’t you?
Sally Yates: (02:18:31)
No, I don’t despise anyone, Senator.
Senator Kennedy: (02:18:34)
Okay. Isn’t it true that there were a handful of people at the FBI that despised Donald Trump and wanted to do everything they could do to keep him from being president?
Sally Yates: (02:18:51)
I can’t speak as to what other people despised Donald Trump.
Senator Kennedy: (02:18:56)
Were you part of that group?
Sally Yates: (02:18:59)
No, Senator I was not.
Senator Kennedy: (02:19:01)
Isn’t it true that there were a handful of people at the Department of Justice during the Obama administration that despised Donald Trump and did everything in their power to keep him from being president?
Sally Yates: (02:19:14)
I’m not aware of anyone at the Department of Justice doing anything to try to keep Donald Trump from becoming President. That would be have been inconsistent-
Senator Kennedy: (02:19:21)
Were you part of that group? I’m sorry, were you a part of that group?
Sally Yates: (02:19:25)
No, I’m not aware of anybody doing that. That would not only surprise me, but shock me.
Senator Kennedy: (02:19:33)
Would it be fair to say that the … Strike that. The Steele dossier was a keystone to the Russian collusion investigation, wasn’t it?
Sally Yates: (02:19:44)
No, it was not. It was a part of the Carter Page FISA affidavit, but in fact, I think, if you read the Mueller report, you’ll see that the Steele dossier does not play a role at all.
Senator Kennedy: (02:19:55)
So, you don’t think it was important to the FISA applications?
Sally Yates: (02:20:03)
As I just said, Senator, yes, with respect to the FISA applications in Carter Page. But your question was not that. Your question was with respect to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
Senator Kennedy: (02:20:13)
All right, fair enough. Let me be sure I understand you. Was the Steele dossier critically important to the FISA applications?
Sally Yates: (02:20:24)
Yes it was. There was information with respect to Carter Page-
Senator Kennedy: (02:20:28)
Okay. Not to cut you off, but I’ve only got five minutes and I think we can agree on this. The Steele dossier was junk, wasn’t it?
Sally Yates: (02:20:39)
The Steele dossier, when you say junk, I don’t really know how to describe that. We certainly-
Senator Kennedy: (02:20:45)
Well, what do you think about it? You thought it was true? You think it’s true?
Sally Yates: (02:20:51)
Senator, there’s information that was in the dossier that certainly is called into question now. I haven’t been at the Department of Justice for-
Senator Kennedy: (02:20:58)
Well, no kidding.
Sally Yates: (02:21:04)
May I finish my answer please, Senator?
Senator Kennedy: (02:21:05)
Sure, I’m sorry. You’re right, I apologize, Counsel.
Sally Yates: (02:21:08)
Senator Kennedy: (02:21:12)
Go ahead. My question was, isn’t it a fact that the Steele dossier’s junk?
Sally Yates: (02:21:17)
I think that there is certainly evidence now, but there was not at the time, that calls into question the reliability of many portions of the Steele dossier. I have [inaudible 00:13:27]-
Senator Kennedy: (02:21:26)
Okay. Did you check to see if it was junk before you signed off on the FISA application?
Sally Yates: (02:21:34)
Senator, the affidavit that was provided by the FBI sets forth the factual basis. We rely upon the FBI to be the fact finders in the FISA process-
Senator Kennedy: (02:21:45)
[crosstalk 02:21:45] So, you didn’t independently check?
Sally Yates: (02:21:48)
No, sir. I did not independently fact check, and I’m not exactly sure how I would go about doing individual-
Senator Kennedy: (02:21:53)
Let me be sure I understand. You signed off on two of the applications. You’re asking for permission to surveil somebody who is close to a candidacy for the President of the United States in one instance, and in the second instance actually was the President of the United States. You took no independent steps to see if the Steele dossier was accurate? Is that your testimony?
Sally Yates: (02:22:35)
Senator, I’m sorry. I’m not following your question when you talk about who was the subject of the FISA application.
Senator Kennedy: (02:22:40)
Let me try to be clearer. The Steele dossiers was critical to at least several of the FISA applications, one of which you signed off on. You said that to get the … Let me finish my question. You said that the Steele dossier, with hindsight, may not have been completely accurate. You’re investigating a President of the United States and you didn’t check to see if it was accurate?
Senator Kennedy: (02:23:16)
Let me put it another way. Let’s suppose my staff came to me tomorrow and said, “We have evidence that Chairman Graham is colluding with China to influence the Presidential election.” I say, “Okay, what’s the basis of that?”
Mr. Graham: (02:23:37)
Senator Kennedy: (02:23:38)
They say, “We have a reliable source that we can trust, and we want you to call him out.” I go out, and call him out, with verifying the reliable source. Am I not like a rock only dumber? Isn’t that what you did?
Sally Yates: (02:24:00)
That’s not at all what I did, Senator. First of all, the FISA hearing was-
Senator Kennedy: (02:24:04)
So then tell me every step you took to verify the veracity of the Steele dossier, which was junk. You didn’t do anything, did you? Let me ask you one last question.
Sally Yates: (02:24:18)
If I could get a chance to answer your questions, Senator.
Mr. Graham: (02:24:19)
We’ll let her … Yes, ma’am. Go ahead with your answer.
Speaker 4: (02:24:22)
Wait a minute, Mr. Chairman. Accusations are being made.
Mr. Graham: (02:24:26)
Speaker 4: (02:24:27)
The witness should have an opportunity to respond.
Mr. Graham: (02:24:30)
I agree. You may respond.
Sally Yates: (02:24:30)
Thank you very much. I think, Senator, you are implying here that the FISA application was on Donald Trump. As we all know, the FISA application was not on a candidate or President. It was on an individual who was formerly with the campaign, was not a current member of the campaign.
Sally Yates: (02:24:51)
Secondly, with respect to the process, the FISA process is such that the FBI, as I’ve indicated to you, is the fact finder. They have the files. They engage in what’s called a Woods process, where they are required to document that every single fact in the affidavit is accurate, and that they can trace it back to a specific place in the FBI files that establish that.
Sally Yates: (02:25:15)
A problem I think that the Page FISA process has revealed is that just because there is a fact in their FBI files, a document that establishes that fact, there were also inconsistent facts that apparently were not included in that affidavit. Lawyers in the National Security Division spent a lot of time working with the FBI and putting together the affidavit and the application here. But they necessarily must rely upon the FBI who are fact-finders in this to be certain of the accuracy. In fact, that’s exactly how the FISA application is set up. It is the FBI agent who swears everything about-
Senator Kennedy: (02:26:01)
[crosstalk 02:26:01] Mr. Chairman, now I’m confused.
Mr. Graham: (02:26:01)
Senator Kennedy: (02:26:02)
Could you just tell me every step you took to verify that the accuracy of the Steele dossier?
Sally Yates: (02:26:09)
I relied upon the FBI as the fact-finders here, and the lawyers in the National Security Division to vet the accuracy of the FI’s application. My job-
Senator Kennedy: (02:26:21)
All of whom hated Trump, right?
Sally Yates: (02:26:23)
No, Senator, we did not hate Trump.
Mr. Graham: (02:26:26)
Well, if I may-
Sally Yates: (02:26:28)
You know, I have to say, I have to speak up here for the career men and women of the Department of Justice. There were a lot of-
Senator Kennedy: (02:26:34)
Oh, I’m not talking about all the career men and women. I think you and your colleagues have tarnished the reputation of the FBI.
Speaker 4: (02:26:41)
Mr. Graham: (02:26:42)
So, if I may, we’ll go to the next witness.
Senator Kennedy: (02:26:46)
Am I out of time, Mr. Chairman?
Mr. Graham: (02:26:48)
Senator Kennedy: (02:26:49)
Mr. Graham: (02:26:49)
Just a second. One thing I do want to make a point, and we’ll go to Senator Blumenthal, is I accept that Ms. Yates did not do an independent investigation of the affidavit, and I agree with Senator Whitehouse. I don’t think most people in that situation are not required to do that. But I do want to ask one question. Once the dossier was known to be unreliable, Ms. Yates, did the people who did the interview, did they have a duty to notify their superiors about their concerns and about the information they found?
Sally Yates: (02:27:28)
Are you talking about the interview that took place at the end of January?
Mr. Graham: (02:27:31)
Sally Yates: (02:27:33)
Yes, they did.
Mr. Graham: (02:27:35)
Can you imagine a circumstance where they did not do that?
Sally Yates: (02:27:39)
I can’t speculate as to what actually happened, and this was in the final days of my time at the Department of Justice. But yes, I agree with you. I agree with you that the information from that interview should have been provided to the lawyers in the National Security Division so it could be incorporated in the FISA applications.
Mr. Graham: (02:28:00)
Should it also been provided to Mr. McCabe who was in charge of the investigation?
Sally Yates: (02:28:05)
I don’t know internally how it works at the FBI. I would expect that would happen, but I don’t know whether it did or not.
Mr. Graham: (02:28:11)
Finally, do you think it’s fair for this committee to ask those questions?
Sally Yates: (02:28:17)
It’s not really up to me to be telling you what’s fair and what isn’t fair?
Mr. Graham: (02:28:20)
But who knew what, when? Yeah, thank you.
Sally Yates: (02:28:24)
I don’t think it’s …
Mr. Graham: (02:28:26)
Yeah, thank you. Senator Blumenthal. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to find out who knew what, when, and what they did about it. Senator Blumenthal.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:28:33)
Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Let me just say, Ms. Yates, thank you for your appearance today. Thank you for your patience with us, including myself, because I am likely to repeat some of the questions that you may have already answered. But let me say at the very outset, when you appeared before this committee in May of 2017, I said, among other things, quote, “Whether we agree or disagree with you, I hope there are young prosecutors and young members of our intelligence committee who will watch this hearing and say, that’s the kind of professional I want to be. Not just expert, but a person of deep conviction and conscience.”
Senator Blumenthal: (02:29:21)
I repeat that today because it is something I feel as deeply now, as I did then about you, Ms. Yates, and I appreciate your service to our country and your being here to go through some of these questions, which have been repetitive, and even, with all due respect, unnecessarily antagonistic.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:29:48)
I want to come back to one of the fundamental issues here. When the recommendation was made by a number of the FBI agents to close the investigation on January 4th, so far as you know, were those agents aware of the conversation between Michael Flynn and ambassador Kislyak?
Sally Yates: (02:30:20)
Senator, I think you’re referring to the specific counter-intelligence investigation of Michael Flynn. My understanding is no, they did not know about those conversations.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:30:28)
They did not know about that?
Sally Yates: (02:30:30)
But again, I don’t think … This is really a red herring here because this interview, I wasn’t even aware that there was a specific counter-intelligence investigation opened up on General Flynn at that point. You didn’t need that to go interview General Flynn. The circumstances here called out for an interview in the context of the broader investigation.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:30:53)
In fact, you’ve just answered what was going to be my next question. The continuing investigation into Michael Flynn was legitimate, correct, when he was questioned by the FBI himself?
Sally Yates: (02:31:07)
Senator Blumenthal: (02:31:09)
His lies to the FBI were material, correct?
Sally Yates: (02:31:13)
They certainly were.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:31:16)
Now the Department of Justice has moved to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn on the basis that his false statements to the FBI were not material, or the investigation was not legitimate, but I think that is clearly and powerfully contradicted by the evidence that you’ve given us today.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:31:42)
Let me say, Mr. Chairman, I know others of our colleagues have made reference to it, but over the past few days, we’ve received classified briefings about the continuing, absolutely shocking and startling threat from malign foreign interference in our election that is potentially ongoing. These briefings, I think emphasize to us our responsibility to focus on the present and the future in terms of that threat. I hope that this investigation, or these series of hearings, will in no way distract us or deflect the nation’s attention from that continuing foreign threat to our election security.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:32:38)
It’s absolutely chilling based on the facts we’ve received in a classified setting. I believe the American people need and deserve to know them. I think these facts should be declassified immediately. We have a responsibility to address them in this committee and elsewhere. I hope that the time, and attention, and energy that these hearings are taking will in no way distract us from that ongoing task. It’s a challenge that is central to our responsibility. It’s not just peripheral or convenient. It is central and essential.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:33:21)
Ms. Yates, I want to give you, finally, an opportunity to clarify a part of your testimony relating to George Papadopoulos. I think you were referring to emails that Russia planned to release involving contacts with him. Just to clarify, were you suggesting that Papadopoulos was a Russian or a foreign agent?
Sally Yates: (02:33:48)
No, I was not. What I was suggesting was, is that he had gotten that information from someone who was associated with the Russians. Not that he is a Russian agent.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:34:01)
Thank you. Thanks very much.
Mr. Graham: (02:34:03)
Thank you, Senator Blumenthal, for clearing that up for Mr. Papadopoulos’ sake. Senator Cruz.
Senator Cruz: (02:34:11)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Yates, when did you first become aware that the Obama administration was surveilling the Donald Trump campaign?
Sally Yates: (02:34:25)
The Obama administration was not surveilling the Donald Trump campaign.
Senator Cruz: (02:34:33)
So, a FISA application is not surveillance?
Sally Yates: (02:34:37)
The FISA application was for Carter Page, who was a former member of the Trump campaign at that point.
Senator Cruz: (02:34:44)
So, your testimony is that the investigation and Carter page had nothing to do with the Donald Trump campaign?
Sally Yates: (02:34:50)
No. I’m suggesting you asked me if we were surveilling the campaign-
Senator Cruz: (02:34:54)
You don’t get it both ways. Is it the campaign or not?
Sally Yates: (02:34:59)
Senator, I’m trying to give you what is the accurate information here. Carter Page was a former member of the Trump campaign at the time that the FISA was initiated.
Senator Cruz: (02:35:09)
What was the reason for the FISA on Carter Page?
Sally Yates: (02:35:14)
There were a number of reasons. First, we had gotten the information, that I was trying to point out here, that the Russians had made the overture, that they wanted to be able to assist the Trump campaign.
Senator Cruz: (02:35:24)
Hold on, you said it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign.
Sally Yates: (02:35:28)
I said that he was not a member of the Trump campaign at the time that we initiated the FISA.
Senator Cruz: (02:35:34)
Ms. Yates, in your time at the Department of Justice, are you aware of any other political opponents of President Obama that were being surveilled?
Sally Yates: (02:35:46)
Again, Senator, if you’re talking about the court authorized surveillance on part of Page-
Senator Cruz: (02:35:52)
I’m asking, are you aware of any surveillance of any other political opponents? Any other candidates for President 2016? There were a whole bunch of them, including the chairman and myself. Were either of us being surveilled? Yes or no?
Mr. Graham: (02:36:04)
It would have been a waste of time anyways.
Sally Yates: (02:36:07)
The answer to that is no. I also think that there was also no information that the Russians were working to aid another candidate other than Donald Trump.
Senator Cruz: (02:36:14)
Okay. So, your testimony is no other candidate in 2016 was being surveilled, other than Carter Page and the Trump campaign. Is that right?
Sally Yates: (02:36:25)
Other than Carter Page.
Senator Cruz: (02:36:27)
Okay. When did you first become aware of the investigation and the surveillance on Carter Page?
Sally Yates: (02:36:38)
When the FISA application was presented to me in October, I knew that the NSD lawyers were working on it for some period of time prior to that with the FBI. So, it would have been in the October range.
Senator Cruz: (02:36:52)
Mr. Graham: (02:36:53)
I don’t mean to interrupt, but wasn’t Papadopoulos also being taped?
Senator Cruz: (02:36:59)
Ms. Yates, the chairman asks a good question.
Sally Yates: (02:36:59)
My understanding, I was not aware at the time, but my understanding is that there was a recorded conversation between Papadopoulos and a source, not wiretap surveillance, but there was a-
Mr. Graham: (02:37:18)
No, but the government orchestrated this, right?
Sally Yates: (02:37:18)
That’s what I know now. Didn’t know that at the time. Yes.
Mr. Graham: (02:37:24)
So, we know that the government orchestrated a recording of conversations with Papadopoulos and got a warrant against Carter Page. That seems to me, surveillance.
Senator Cruz: (02:37:33)
So, when they came to you asking to surveil members of the Trump campaign, because of conduct they allegedly did while members of the Trump campaign, what due diligence did you do? Did you press back at all? You already told Senator Kennedy, you just trusted the FBI. You didn’t ask about their sources. I mean, what due diligence did you do before signing off on what we now have significant reason to believe was a profound politicization of law enforcement and intelligence?
Sally Yates: (02:38:08)
Senator, there was a tremendous amount of process back and forth between the lawyers and the National Security Division and the FBI.
Senator Cruz: (02:38:15)
Okay, I asked what you did, not other lawyers. What due diligence did you do? You were the one signing off on it.
Sally Yates: (02:38:22)
With respect to whether the facts were accurate in this, in this instance-
Senator Cruz: (02:38:26)
So, did you inquire whether it was opposition research funded by the DNC or Hillary Clinton?
Sally Yates: (02:38:31)
Yes, I did have a discussion about that-
Senator Cruz: (02:38:32)
Sally Yates: (02:38:34)
With a lawyer in my office.
Senator Cruz: (02:38:38)
Would that have been Bruce Ohr?
Sally Yates: (02:38:43)
No. Bruce Ohr was not working on this.
Senator Cruz: (02:38:43)
But his wife was working for Fusion GPS being paid by Hillary Clinton and the DNC, and he certainly was actively involved in this investigation. Did you know that? Did anyone inquire about that?
Sally Yates: (02:38:55)
No. I had no idea of that. Learned that from the Inspector General’s investigation. Bruce Ohr was not working with us on any of these FISA applications.
Senator Cruz: (02:39:12)
You said earlier that nobody was trying to get President Trump. Have you read the Horowitz Inspector General report?
Sally Yates: (02:39:22)
I have, and Inspector General Horowitz found that he did not find any evidence of bias or a political motive.
Senator Cruz: (02:39:30)
Ms. Yates, with all due respect, Inspector General Horowitz found 17 material misstatements in those FISA applications, including a lawyer from the FBI who fraudulently altered a document and submitted it. In fact, took the question, “Was Carter Page an asset for the CIA?” The CIA said, “Yes.” He altered the document and changed it to a, “No.” You’re telling me that nobody wanted to get Trump? How about that lawyer that fraudulently altered a document to get this surveillance?
Sally Yates: (02:40:02)
I’m telling you, there was-
Senator Cruz: (02:40:03)
… to get this surveillance.
Sally Yates: (02:40:03)
I’m telling you that inspector general Horowitz did over 170 interviews and reviewed more than a million document. And he’s in a better position than I am to be able to make an conclusion about whether there was evidence of a political motive or bias. [crosstalk 02:40:17]-
Senator Cruz: (02:40:17)
Ms. Yates, let me just make a final observation. You mentioned in your testimony the principled career men and women at the Department of Justice and the FBI, and you’re right there. There are tremendous principals whose integrity has been called into question by the profound politicization of the leadership of the department and of the bureau. And to sign off on turning the FBI and the CIA into a tool of opposition research and attacking your political opponents, and to go all the way to the oval office as you did on January 5th with president Obama and Joe Biden going after their political opponents, it’s wrong and it has done immeasurable damage to the professionals and the men and women of integrity at the Department of Justice and at the bureau.
Mr. Graham: (02:41:08)
And now, I think Senator Hirono, but I will say, I want Ms. Yates to understand, Horowitz didn’t find any bias in opening up the counter-intelligence investigation, but he was dumbfounded by the series of events that occurred, including manipulating evidence and all the withholding of information from the court. He said that’s hard to explain. Not for me, it’s not. Senator Hirono.
Senator Hirono: (02:41:34)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As a person who has very much politicized the department of the attorney general is the current attorney general, Bill Barr. There’s been a lot of talk today about the justice department of errors and omissions in the FISA application process and the IG investigation where they interviewed 100 people, looked at a million documents. And a Ms. Yates just testified, there was no finding of political bias or improper motivations in the beginning of that investigation. But what hasn’t been brought out is the fact that Christopher Ray, the FBI director in response to the IG’s recommendations, has taken more than 40 corrective steps to address the concerns. FBI director Ms. Yates has warned that Russia is engaged in information warfare, and even as we speak, they are continuing to interfere with our 2020 presidential election, and you noted that their interference in 2016 was shocking and massive. Do you think our country is adequately prepared to combat Russian interference in this upcoming election?
Sally Yates: (02:42:44)
I’m no longer in government, Senator, so I don’t know what’s going on, but gosh, I hope so. And I hope that this is all of government approach, because regardless of whether folks are Democrats or Republicans or what their views may be on anything else, I think and hope that we all share the same objective, that we want to protect the integrity of our elections.
Senator Hirono: (02:43:11)
I completely agree with you, but I have to say, this leads me into the next question, because it seems President Trump is not taking Russian interference in our elections seriously. And to your knowledge, has President Trump ever punished Russia or even criticized Russia for its attack on our democracy in 2016?
Sally Yates: (02:43:33)
Well, I’m not an authority on that from an official standpoint. I can’t recall an instance now. I’m not saying that it’s never happened, but I sure can’t remember one.
Senator Hirono: (02:43:41)
Well, if he has, I’d like somebody to point it out to me. And I don’t think he has even acknowledged the current efforts by Russia to undermine our upcoming elections. Going on, on January 26, 2017, you warned the White House that President Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had lied in denying that he discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador. And yes, he had a back channel conversations going on. Did General Flynn pose a national security risk to the United States?
Sally Yates: (02:44:17)
Certainly our concern, Senator, is that the Russians had leverage over General Flynn and the Russians will use leverage whenever they can.
Senator Hirono: (02:44:25)
And somebody as close to the president as being the national security advisor, I would say that he posed a national security risk, and that is how I take your response. Now, during an earlier back and forth with the chairman, there was a question on whether General Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador about sanctions related to a run-of-the-mill policy difference. You know, what’s the problem of an incoming administration trying to reset their relationship with another country? But is it standard run-of-the-mill stuff for a member of an incoming administration to undermine sanctions imposed by the current administration? I guess the country that massively interfered in our elections, particularly when that country interfered in favor of the incoming administration? Is there a mere resetting or did it raise a lot more concerns?
Sally Yates: (02:45:16)
Senator, [inaudible 02:45:16] understand that people of good faith can have different views on policies, and you can have a policy difference, but I would hope and expect that Democrat or Republican, Obama administration or Trump administration, that you would be opposed to the Russians trying to meddle in our elections.
Senator Hirono: (02:45:34)
Sally Yates: (02:45:35)
[crosstalk 02:45:35] stand unified on that and make sure that we send the adequate message [inaudible 02:45:41] that they can never do it again.
Senator Hirono: (02:45:43)
And this administration is certainly not sending that adequate message to Russia, “You will not interfere with our elections.” Now, having spent nearly three decades at the justice department, do you believe President Trump’s obstruction of justice conduct as described in the Mueller Report was enough to indict him? Do you think he would have been prosecuted were he not the president of the United States?
Sally Yates: (02:46:07)
I think it’s certainly raised a number of troubling scenarios, and having been a prosecutor for a number of years myself … Let me answer it this way. I think that there were a couple of thousand former DOJ officials that signed a letter indicating that if that had been somebody else, they would have prosecuted. So …
Senator Hirono: (02:46:26)
And do you agree with that assessment of a thousand former people?
Sally Yates: (02:46:30)
[crosstalk 02:46:30] Yeah, I want to be precise here. I would want to look at the specific allegations, but there certainly were very troubling allegations with respect to [inaudible 02:46:40].
Senator Hirono: (02:46:41)
And possibly resulting in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice, were he not a sitting president.
Sally Yates: (02:46:49)
Certainly the Mueller Report made it clear that that was a stumbling block for his being able to make a conclusion about obstruction.
Senator Hirono: (02:46:57)
Thank you very much.
Mr. Graham: (02:47:00)
Thank you. Yeah, I think that was a great exchange. You can’t tell us whether or not you agree with the conclusion there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but you sure as hell feel comfortable opining about the 2,000 people who signed on about obstruction of justice. So let me ask you again, are you okay with the part of the report where Mueller said there was no evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians sufficient to proceed forward?
Sally Yates: (02:47:39)
[inaudible 02:47:39] Senator. [inaudible 02:47:42] the Mueller Report did not find that there was no evidence of a conspiracy. What he found was is that the evidence was [crosstalk 02:47:49]-
Mr. Graham: (02:47:48)
Do you think there was evidence of a conspiracy?
Sally Yates: (02:47:51)
May I please finish my answer?
Mr. Graham: (02:47:54)
Sure. Yeah, go ahead.
Sally Yates: (02:47:56)
I absolutely accept that conclusion. I think I said that before of special counsel Mueller. He’s in a much better position than I am to know the evidence into a value like that.
Mr. Graham: (02:48:07)
Do you think Mueller let Trump off on obstruction of justice?
Sally Yates: (02:48:12)
I don’t have a view as to whether he let him off. I have to tell you, I have tremendous respect for special counsel Mueller, and I believe that-
Mr. Graham: (02:48:20)
Okay, thank you.
Sally Yates: (02:48:20)
… he was doing his job responsibly and in the way that it should be done. So, I’m not going to [crosstalk 02:48:25] second guessing.
Senator Cruz: (02:48:25)
Thank you very much. Senator Blackburn.
Senator Blackburn: (02:48:30)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Ms. Yates, thank you for coming to us willingly. I actually left the hearing room and came back to my office to ask the questions. I think we can hear you a little better this way and can move through this a bit more quickly, and you won’t have to repeat yourself, because we do want to get some things on the record. So thank you for this. I want to be sure that I’ve understood some of your answers and statement. You had a standard process for reviewing FISA applications. Is that correct?
Sally Yates: (02:49:09)
[inaudible 02:49:09], yes.
Senator Blackburn: (02:49:10)
Okay. And you stated that your review of the Carter Page FISA application was no different from any other, is that correct?
Sally Yates: (02:49:22)
No, I did not state that.
Senator Blackburn: (02:49:24)
Okay. Was your review of that one any different from any other FISA application?
Sally Yates: (02:49:31)
Yes. I reviewed this one more carefully.
Senator Blackburn: (02:49:34)
And what led you to review it more carefully?
Sally Yates: (02:49:37)
Because this was obviously a very significant and sensitive matter.
Senator Blackburn: (02:49:42)
Okay. And who briefed you on that application? Who actually gave you all the background information and briefed you on that application?
Sally Yates: (02:49:54)
There were a number of lawyers, both from the national security division and a lawyer on my staff, in the deputy attorney general’s office, who had spent a lot of-
Senator Blackburn: (02:50:04)
[crosstalk 02:50:04] that there were a variety of attorneys from the national security division. Did you not have one person in your office that was responsible to clear information and then bring it to you?
Sally Yates: (02:50:21)
Yes. As I was trying to explain, there are lawyers in the national security division who work on the FISA with the FBI. When they go through their levels of approval, it then comes to my office. There was a lawyer in my office who used to be in the national security division who’s an expert on these matters. She spent a lot of time on this case, and she is the one who provided the most detailed briefings to me in addition to my reading the FISA.
Senator Blackburn: (02:50:48)
Okay. Did you ever suspect that something might be wrong with this information?
Sally Yates: (02:50:53)
At the time I’d signed them, no. No. We [crosstalk 02:50:58]-
Senator Blackburn: (02:50:58)
So you never had any inclination that something may not be right? So let me ask you this. The agent who falsified and made the inaccuracies that you have said now you would not have signed it knowing that there were these inaccuracies, should these agents who knowingly did something wrong and gave false information, should they be held to account? Should they face consequences? Should they face jail time?
Sally Yates: (02:51:38)
Look, certainly think that if there are agents who knowingly and intentionally provide false information in an affidavit, there should be consequences for that. I’m not going to speak to what the [crosstalk 02:51:49]-
Senator Blackburn: (02:51:49)
[crosstalk 02:51:49] support further investigation to find out more of the detail of who falsified all of these. Let me ask you [crosstalk 02:51:57]-
Sally Yates: (02:51:57)
I was trying to stay, Senator, I think there’s an internal FBI process that would address that in respect to the … with respect to the inaccuracies and the FISAs that were sent to me, [inaudible 02:52:09] review what those are, is there was information that was inconsistent with the information that was in the affidavit. It’s not that the facts in the affidavit were untrue. There was information that also was relevant and should absolutely have been included in that affidavit.
Senator Blackburn: (02:52:27)
Okay. All right. Did you know about the [Ores 02:52:31] relationship to [Steele 02:52:32]?
Sally Yates: (02:52:33)
No, I did not.
Senator Blackburn: (02:52:35)
You had no knowledge of that?
Sally Yates: (02:52:37)
Senator Blackburn: (02:52:38)
But he was in your office, correct?
Sally Yates: (02:52:40)
Senator Blackburn: (02:52:41)
Okay. [Struck Paige 02:52:44], that relationship and their vitriol for President Trump. Were you aware of that?
Sally Yates: (02:52:49)
No. [crosstalk 02:52:51]
Senator Blackburn: (02:52:53)
You never heard any conversation on it?
Sally Yates: (02:52:55)
No, I don’t think anyone did until the inspector general’s report.
Senator Blackburn: (02:52:59)
And then [Kolme’s 02:53:01] disdain for President Trump. You never heard anything on that?
Sally Yates: (02:53:06)
I don’t … By saying no, I didn’t, I’m not saying that he had disdain for President Trump. I’m not speaking to that.
Senator Blackburn: (02:53:15)
Okay. And then you never heard any talk about people within the DOJ or the FBI trying to cook up a plot to stop Trump, to block his winning and then to block his presidency.
Sally Yates: (02:53:31)
No, Senator, and not only did I never hear that, that would have been so out of bounds, we all would have acted to stop that. That is completely antithetical to how the Department of Justice [inaudible 02:53:44].
Senator Blackburn: (02:53:43)
But now [crosstalk 02:53:46] transpired, we know that that transpired. So, you know-
Sally Yates: (02:53:50)
Actually, I [crosstalk 02:53:52]
Senator Blackburn: (02:53:52)
… Ms. Yates, I have to tell you, I think that this is one of the things that get passed that people in Tennessee asked me about. How could you possibly have been in charge over there, never heard this conversation, never heard this disdain, not being aware that there were people who were trying to do this. Why were you not curious about Director Kolme and the FBI being opposed to your intention to notify the White House? You weren’t curious about that, it seems. Why do you say Flynn did this and it’s awful, but yet we know what President Obama said to David [Medvedev 02:54:38] about, “Give me more flexibility after the election. I’ll have more flexibility.” You had no problem with that, but then you had problems with these items. These are the inconsistencies that cause people to say, “Who was in charge? How were they watchful? Why were they turning a blind eye, if indeed they did turn a blind eye? Why were they accepting, and who was paying attention to this?” Because people in Tennessee talk to me and they say, “How could it be that a-”
Mr. Graham: (02:55:18)
One more and we’re done.
Senator Blackburn: (02:55:20)
“… private citizen could end up being surveilled?” and everybody just say, “Well, it happened,” and move on. So I know I’m over time, Mr. Chairman. I’ll send my time back to you. And Ms. Yates, thank you for being with us today. I yield back.
Mr. Graham: (02:55:39)
Thank you. I think our last Senator is Senator Booker, but just to put a fine point on that, see if we can all agree with the following. Ms. Yates, when it comes to the FISA warrant application regarding Carter page, there seems to be widespread system failure and we’re trying to correct that. Do you agree with that?
Sally Yates: (02:56:01)
I agree with that. Yes, I do agree with that.
Mr. Graham: (02:56:08)
Yeah. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what I’m trying to do is make sure that never happens again. Thank you. Senator Booker.
Senator Booker: (02:56:12)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Yates, as acting attorney general, there’s many occasions where I felt like you stood up for justice and actually brought a lot of important integrity to the system and to our institutions. And I remember being very grateful that you ordered the justice department not to defend President Trump’s unlawful travel ban, for example, against seven majority Muslim countries. And I’ve appreciated the way you conducted yourself in that way, and I want to sort of drill down into some of your understandings as we see the justice department continuing under the Trump administration.
Senator Booker: (02:56:55)
In many ways, I believe it’s been politicized and manipulated instead of focusing on those interests of justice and democracy. So for example, we know that Russia wants to interfere in our election this year, just as it did in 2016. And we know that they’re wanting to help the Trump campaign, but Attorney General Barr has repeatedly struggled, including in a house hearing just last week, to confirm that it would be wrong and illegal for the president to solicit or accept foreign assistance in election. So I think to just pose this question to you, is it legal or appropriate for a presidential candidate or campaign to solicit or accept help from a foreign government in an election?
Sally Yates: (02:57:39)
No, it’s not. And beyond that, I would hope that they would report that to law enforcement.
Senator Booker: (02:57:45)
I’m grateful. And to that point, just to make that more succinct, if a campaign hears from a foreign government in the offering of electoral assistance, they should report it to the FBI immediately. Correct?
Sally Yates: (02:58:00)
Senator Booker: (02:58:03)
And you know, there’s a lot of areas I believe where Attorney General Barr has obfuscated or in some ways muddled what I think is not only legal clarity, but moral clarity. We’ve seen him and other justice department leaders intervene in prosecutions arising from the Russian investigation of the two close associates of President Trump. I think Michael Flynn and Roger Stone are examples of that. We’ve seen Attorney General Barr engineering the removal of U.S. attorneys who apparently were not sufficiently friendly to the president’s personal interests. And we’ve seen Attorney General Barr distort the findings of the special counsel Mueller’s report on the Trump campaigns linked to Russian interference and President Trump’s later efforts to obstruct that investigation. And so, do you think actions like these are consistent with the justice department’s duty, as you said, and I quote you, to always seek justice and stand for what’s right?
Sally Yates: (02:59:11)
I think that the highest responsibility of any lawyer at the Department of Justice is to ensure that you’re going about doing your job in a way that will inspire the public trust. The public has to be assured that the rules apply the same to everyone. There’s no people who are treated specially, and that the law is not used as a cudgel to go after people who are enemies or not friends. And that is the most sacrosanct obligation of the Department of Justice.
Senator Booker: (02:59:39)
And so based on your three decades of experience at the justice department, under presidents of both parties, do you think the department’s recent attempts to dismiss the Flynn case have damaged the credibility? Are they unprecedented in terms of what you’ve seen under presidents of both parties, and what do you think should be done about this going forward?
Sally Yates: (03:00:02)
Well, I think anytime you have something like this, where there is certainly the appearance as you start there, that someone who is close to the president is being treated differently. And then when you look at the underlying facts and you see that in fact, positions are being taken by the justice department that have never been taken in any other similar cases before. And the fact that no career person would sign that pleading, that all does have to give you some pause.
Senator Booker: (03:00:33)
And then last week, Attorney General Barr refused to agree that he would wait to release a report by the U.S. attorney John Durham until after the election in November. I’d like to enter into the record a New York times article from today entitled, Will Bill Barr Try to Help Trump Win the Election? The article details Attorney General Barr’s apparent efforts to override key justice department policies and norms by deploying this and other investigations for political purposes. And if that article can be entered to the record, Mr. Chairman?
Mr. Graham: (03:01:09)
Senator Booker: (03:01:10)
And so Ms. Yates, the inspector general’s report stated that in the run up to the 2016 election, you, quote, “did not want to do anything that could potentially impact candidate Trump.” That’s on page 71 and 72. So why is it important for the justice department to avoid taking actions just before an election that could, again I quote, “potentially impact it”?
Sally Yates: (03:01:33)
This is an important principle that applies, not just in an investigation of the president, but in any investigation that could involve in an elected official. I’ve prosecuted public corruption cases as an AUSA, and I’ll tell you, we didn’t take any action, whether it was a case involving a local sheriff or a governor or senator. We wouldn’t take any action that could potentially have an impact on the election. And that’s not just to be fair to that individual, but also to ensure that the public has confidence that this power is not being used to try to impact an election. In this case, when you mention Trump, I have a very specific recollection of activity with respect to Paul Manafort and my talking to the FBI to make sure that they weren’t doing anything publicly with respect to Mr. Manafort, even though he was no longer even with the campaign at this point. That they weren’t doing anything publicly with respect to Mr. Manafort, because that could be unfair to then-candidate Donald Trump.
Senator Booker: (03:02:37)
Well, I want to thank you. My time’s expired. I just want to say that, look, I think that retrospective hearings where we’re analyzing and looking to get to the truth are important, but to prioritize that over an oncoming election and with the international interference that we all know is going on, and with conduct of a attorney general that is possibly further eroding the independence of that agency that they run in addition to undermining the sacrosanct ideals of an independent election, these are the things we should be looking at right now to prevent what could happen in November that to me would be a serious blow to our overall democracy. And I’m hoping that these are issues that we can, we can explore as a committee. Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing me to go over time, and Ms. Yates, it’s very actually good to see you again. I look forward to the next opportunity we have to connect.
Mr. Graham: (03:03:39)
Thank you. I believe that’s our last Senator, and just wrap it up, Ms. Yates, thank you for appearing. Just want to clear up some things that were brought up. Are you familiar with the Durham investigation?
Mr. Graham: (03:03:54)
Do you know Mr. Durham?
Sally Yates: (03:03:55)
I don’t believe we’ve ever met.
Mr. Graham: (03:04:00)
Do you have any concerns about his doing something politically wrong? As far as you know, is he a honest man?
Sally Yates: (03:04:10)
I don’t know Mr. Durham.
Mr. Graham: (03:04:11)
Okay, so you don’t have an opinion one way or the other.
Sally Yates: (03:04:13)
Mr. Graham: (03:04:15)
Okay. Is it okay for Mr. Durham to find out how the system failed when it comes to the FISA warrant application?
Sally Yates: (03:04:25)
Well, I think the inspector general did that investigation.
Mr. Graham: (03:04:27)
Yeah. Is it okay to hold somebody criminally responsible who lies to the court?
Sally Yates: (03:04:34)
If someone committed a crime, yes, of course it’s okay to hold them responsible.
Mr. Graham: (03:04:38)
So if you knew that the dossier was no longer reliable, but you continue to give it to the court, would that be a crime?
Sally Yates: (03:04:49)
Well, I assume you’re saying you, because you understand I did not know [crosstalk 03:04:53]-
Mr. Graham: (03:04:52)
No, no doubt in my mind, ma’am. I have never suggested that you’ve presented false information to the court. Here’s what I’m suggesting. Is it possible that one of the most high profile cases in the history of the FBI involving the Trump campaign literally fell apart when it came to the Carter Page warrant application and people above were not told? It’s a simple question. The intel analyst who did the 40 page memo in January and another one in March and April provided evidence to the system that the warrant, that the dossier was a bunch of garbage. Is it okay to find out who was told about that?
Sally Yates: (03:05:40)
Again, Senator, I think that inspector general Horowitz did that investigation. That’s not [crosstalk 03:05:44]-
Mr. Graham: (03:05:43)
No, he did not.
Sally Yates: (03:05:46)
… to tell you what’s okay [crosstalk 03:05:49].
Mr. Graham: (03:05:48)
No, ma’am. [crosstalk 03:05:48] asked. I asked him specifically, “Did you ask the intel analyst, did you talk to anybody about your findings?” He said, “No.” That he didn’t talk to Kolme or [McCabe 03:06:00] about this. I believe you when you said that you didn’t know that dossier was reliable. That if you had known it was unreliable, you wouldn’t have done it. The question for me is, how’s it possible that people investigating this case were unaware that it fell apart? Is it okay for Durham to look at that, you think?
Sally Yates: (03:06:24)
It’s not my position to be saying what John Durham should do or not.
Mr. Graham: (03:06:28)
Okay, well, as a career professional, do you want people held accountable who intentionally lied to the court?
Sally Yates: (03:06:38)
Certainly. I would say that if someone intentionally lies to the court, they should be held accountable.
Mr. Graham: (03:06:43)
Let’s talk about ethical duties. Do you have a duty to give the court and the defense exculpatory information?
Sally Yates: (03:06:52)
If you’re talking about [inaudible 03:06:54] information, yes.
Mr. Graham: (03:06:54)
Sally Yates: (03:06:56)
But [crosstalk 03:06:58] are you talking about the FISA court or a defendant in a criminal case?
Mr. Graham: (03:07:01)
Either way. In the Flynn case, one of the reasons they want to drop it is because they found evidence exculpatory that the defense wasn’t provided, but we’ll have them come in and talk about Flynn. What I want to let the American people know is I don’t buy for a minute that there are only two people in the FBI knew the dossier was garbage and they didn’t tell anybody. And I want to make sure this never happens again. I believe you and Rosenstein did not know. I find it impossible to believe that Struck, McCabe, and Kolme were not aware of the fact that the sub-source disavowed the dossier. That’s what I’m trying to find. That’s what I’m trying to put the puzzle together.
Mr. Graham: (03:07:44)
So, what will the committee do next? We’re going to talk to the intel analyst and the case agent and two others who interviewed the Russian sub-source in January, again in March, and again in April. And we’re going to ask him, “Oh, by the way, did you tell anybody in the FBI that the reliability of the dossier is going down to zero? And if you did tell somebody, who was it?” Then we’ll decide as the nation what accountability they should have, whether it be being fired, going to jail, or whatever. That is the purpose of this investigation going forward is to make sure that the biggest system failure maybe ever at the FBI is not repeated to make sure that if the FBI is investigating a presidential candidate or a sitting president, that they’re held account when it goes off track. I just find it hard to believe that the dossier was used four times to get a warrant against Carter Page, and nobody knew it was a bunch of garbage, particularly after the January interview of the sub-source.
Mr. Graham: (03:08:51)
I don’t believe you knew. I don’t believe Rosenstein knew, but the idea that we’re going to blame these two people at the bottom of the pyramid is not going to go forward without some serious looking. So, what will the committee be doing next? We’re going to find out who knew what and when, and if they knew the dossier wasn’t reliable and they continued to use it, they’re going to be in serious trouble with the law. And Ms. Yates, I appreciate your service to our country, and we will keep the record open for-