Graham takes shot at Trump in Russian Federation hearing

Adjust Comment Print

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File). FILE - In this November 10, 2016 file photo, President Barack Obama shakes hands with then-President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, who also testified Monday, warned Russia's efforts to influence the election posed a threat to democracy, and the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party emails were a worrying taste of the future.

Lindsey Graham, former Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday said she warned the White House that President Donald Trump's then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail after misleading the administration about his Russian Federation connections.

Making her first public statements about the issue, Yates said she feared Moscow could try to blackmail Flynn because it also knew he had not been truthful about conversations he had with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about USA sanctions on Russian Federation.

Monday's testimony came as part of a Senate investigation into Russian meddling in last year's USA presidential election, which Trump won over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Yates said she told the White House six days into Trump's administration that Flynn, a former military intelligence chief, had not been honest with Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador to Washington, leaving him vulnerable to leverage from Moscow.

Trump fired Flynn, a retired general, for failing to disclose discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about USA sanctions against Moscow and for not telling the truth about them to Vice President Pence. Yates also repeatedly said she made a decision to inform McGahn and the White House of what they knew of Flynn so the White House could "take action".

Flynn's own contacts with Russia have also raised eyebrows, including an appearance at a 2015 gala for state-sponsored Russian news network RT, during which he was photographed seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Finally, we told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate", she said.

"You don't want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians", Yates told a Senate panel investigating Russia's election interference.

"In this instance, all arguments have to be based on truth", she said.

"General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration", he said. Trump's spokespeople cast it as a mere personal grudge, given that Obama had fired Flynn as director of defence intelligence over differences about fighting terrorism.

Trump urged to keep U.S. in climate accord
That interpretation is contested by many legal experts, however, as well as participants in past worldwide climate negotiations. US President Donald Trump has expressed scepticism about the pact.

Sally Yates didn't reveal much that was new in her testimony to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. Much of the focus in recent months has been on Mike Flynn lying about his communications with Russian Federation, but Yates took this a step further: Flynn's false claims were problematic, but so is the conduct he was lying about.

The pair spoke several times over the next two days, with McGahn asking Yates how Flynn had fared during an interview with the Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier that week - she did not answer - and why it was the business of the Justice Department if White House officials had misled each other.

The Senate is scrutinising contacts between Trump's presidential campaign and Moscow, while the Bureau is focusing on a Central Intelligence Agency report that Russian Federation intervened to help Trump win. Yates herself had been fired on January 30, after she publicly refused to let her department defend the president's executive order on immigration from extremist hotspots in the Islamic world.

During a speech Sunday night in Boston, he urged members of Congress to have "courage" as Trump presses for the repeal of his signature health care law, recalling the Democrats who were swept into office with him in 2009, but lost their seats after casting votes in favor of the "Obamacare" measure.

Separately on Monday, former Obama officials said he had raised general concerns about Flynn with Trump and had told the incoming president there were better people for the national security post.

"It's true President Obama made it known he was not exactly a fan of Gen Flynn's", press secretary Sean Spicer was quoted as saying.

Trump repeatedly has said he has no ties to Russia and isn't aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian interference in the election.

"President Donald Trump called Clapper's comments a full dismissal of potential collusion and dismissed the entire issue outright in the series of tweets after the hearing, referring to information from the day's events as "old news", "a total hoax" and "#FakeNews!".

She said this gave Russians prime blackmail material.

The ousted national security adviser's legal headaches worsened in early April after financial disclosure firms released by the White House revealed that he failed to inform it and the Office of Government Ethics about speaking fees he received from three Russia-linked firms. A House committee is due to hear from her.

The hearing was called as part of the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation into Trump's alleged links to Russian Federation and the Kremlin's effort to help him. As a former attorney for the National Republican Congressional Committee, McGahn came to the White House devoid of any experience in national security matters.