Republicans Offer No Defense For Flynn And Trump, Only Misdirection

I’ll have a full post later on the implications of the revelations today on the Flynn story, not only from the testimony of Sally Yates but also that Obama himself warned Trump about Flynn in their meetings shortly after the election. But I just wanted to highlight the weakness of the Republican Senators’ line of questioning in the Yates hearing.

Lindsay Graham tried to drive home the point that there has been no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Clapper did confirm that he had not seen any but Yates said that she could not comment. When Graham pressed as to why the DNI did not seem to be aware that there was evidence of collusion, Clapper responded that it may not have risen to the needed confidence level and Yates said he refusal to comment did not mean that there actually was evidence. He then tacks to the unmasking issue and “regrets” that Susan Rice would not testify, setting up the diversion of leaks.

Chuck Grassley seemed to spend his whole line of questioning focusing on whether Clapper or Yates had leaked or had ever authorized a leak. Cornyn repeats Graham’s “concern” about unmasking and leaking and then goes after Yates on not enforcing the Muslim ban, wondering what gave her the right to overrule the Office of Legal Counsel, determine that the ban was not lawful, and refuse to defend the ban in court. Yates responded that Cornyn had specifically asked her when she was appointed assistant Attorney General whether she would refuse to support an unconstitutional order and Yates had responded back then that she would refuse and that is what she did in this instance. Durbin then pointed out that at least three federal courts had determined that Yates was absolutely correct in making the determination that the Muslim ban was unlawful. Round one for Yates.

Ted Cruz started down an even more bizarre line of attack, asking Clapper about what should happen if someone sent thousands of classified documents to an unsecure computer, trying to draw an unspoken parallel with Hillary Clinton and the Abedin emails and implying that whoever would do that should be prosecuted. What that has to do with Flynn and Russia is beyond me, but it’s another diversionary tack to be sure. He then went back to Yates refusal to enforce the Muslim ban, specifically quoting a statute that covered the President’s authority over immigration. Yates came back and quoted another, later statute that more specifically interpreted the statute that Cruz was citing that stated no visa should be denied on the basis of religion. Yates also pointed out that the Trump administration had specifically directed that the OLC not to inform Yates about the ban until it had been implemented in a highly unusual move. Cruz ended his line of questioning by saying that may be because Yates was “partisan”. Round two for Yates; bout ends with TKO.

The remaining GOP Senators, with the exception of Ben Sasse, spent their time either focusing on leaks or on Yates refusal to enforce the Muslim ban. Kennedy tried another bizarre line of attack, trying to show how the Russians tried to interfere in the US Presidential elections in the 1960s and 1980s. He followed with a enormous error, asking Clapper if he had ever leaked classified or unclassified information. Clapper replied that releasing unclassified information is not leaking.

We go to round two of questioning and Graham asked if Clapper he had seen any indications of Trump business dealings in Russia that would be troubling. Clapper responds that nothing like that was included in the intelligence assessment but that he would have to respond about earlier indications in a closed session, implying there was a possible investigation of Trump’s Russian business connections before he became a candidate. He then pivots back to how the information that Flynn was lying about his contacts with the Russians was leaked and got to the Washington Post.

Kennedy then asks how Flynn got a security clearance if he was speaking to the Russians. Clapper points out that he already had a security clearance before it was revealed he was talking to the Russians. Kennedy then inquired whether you need an additional level of security clearance to work in the White House. Clapper responds that that’s the way he knew it worked in the administrations he worked in but that he did not know how the current White House worked. I’d call that a Kennedy own goal.

Forgetting about the damage that Yates’ testimony has done to Trump and his administration, Republican Senators might have actually done more harm than good in this hearing. They spent far more time focusing on unmasking, leaks, and Yates’ refusal to enforce the Muslim ban, which only highlighted their unwillingness to deal with the Flynn matter at all. In many ways, their silence on that matter speaks louder than anything else they said today. The focus on unmasking and leaks ignore the fact Flynn was clearly a massive security risk and may have only highlighted the fact that, as Blumenthal pointed out, Flynn may very well still be NSA without the leak to the Washington Post. And the red-herring of Yates’ refusal to defend the Muslim ban actually totally backfired as Yates defanged Cornyn by using his own words against him and humiliated Cruz by citing the statute supporting her decision. Additionally, the GOP Senators kept on asking Clapper to provide information that, as a now private citizen, he has no access to but which the current administration could easily provide, prompting the question of why don’t these Senators ask the Trump administration to provide those answers. In summary, the hearing, once again, shows that the Republicans will continue to abet Trump in his lawless behavior and that the party itself is in many ways a larger problem than Trump.

None of these Republican deflections did anything to detract from the central story that Yates gave the White House a detailed accounting of the reasons why the DOJ believed that Flynn was severely compromised in the expectation that some action would be taken. As we know, nothing happened for almost three weeks and Flynn was only relieved when Yates’ warning became public.

I’ve also written about this and other issues on my personal blog at []

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