Also appearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism was Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Clapper once again confirmed that there has not been any proof presented that Moscow somehow colluded with the Trump campaign.
"Do you have any evidence anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election?" Graham asked the witnesses.
Clapper asserted that he does not. Yates responded that she was unable to answer, but clarified that they should not assume that her answer is “yes.”
— Immigrants☆4☆Trump (@immigrant4trump) May 8, 2017
Instead of ending the hearing there, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse accused the RT broadcaster and Sputnik of waging a campaign of “fake news” and propaganda against Democratic nominee and Trump rival Hillary Clinton, claiming the use of “trolls” to spread Russian messages.
“As the intelligence community assessed in its January 2017 report, Russia ‘will continue to develop capabilities… to use against the United States,’ and we need to be ready to meet those threats. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to take part in today’s discussion.”
Committee chairman Senator Lindsey Graham, who has repeatedly called for military action against Russia, discussed his concerns about unmasking, before asserting that “we are here to find out about all things Russia.”
"I've learned a bit about unmasking and what I've learned is disturbing," Graham said. "I'd like to know more and I want to make sure that that unmasking can never be used as a political weapon in our democracy."
Clapper responded to Graham’s unmasking concern by saying that “at no time did I ever submit a request for personal or political purposes, or to voyeuristically look at raw intelligence, nor am I aware of any instance of such abuse by anyone else.”
In March, White House lawyers learned that Susan Rice, who served as the National Security Adviser under President Obama, was the one behind unmasking members of the Trump campaign, such as Mike Flynn, whose conversation with a Russian ambassador was later leaked to the media.
Speaking on unmasking, Clapper stated that there were 1,934 people unmasked by the US government in 2016.
Clapper claimed that Russia had “used cyber operations against both political parties,” but did not release the documents he obtained from the GOP.
During the hearing, Yates testified that she had given the White House information on General Flynn, five days after Trump took office, saying that Moscow knew that Flynn had misled the administration which created a “compromising situation” where he was in a position to be blackmailed by the Kremlin.
"We believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians," Yates began. “To state the obvious, you don't want your national security adviser compromised by the Russians."
"We weren't the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others," Yates added.
She also described Flynn’s “conduct” as “problematic,” but would not elaborate.
Flynn was fired by the administration in February over misrepresenting his unmasked conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, but Trump has long maintained that the general had simply been doing his job when the conversations occurred.
— Makada 🇺🇸 (@_Makada_) May 8, 2017
“The legal department came back and said they didn’t see anything wrong with what was actually said,” Reince Priebus said in February.
Yates was fired after refusing to enforce President Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from several Muslim-majority countries. Many Trump supporters have accused Yates of being a Democratic Party operative.
On Monday morning, Trump had tweeted “ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Both Yates and Clapper testified that they did not know how Flynn’s conversation was leaked to the press.
Pivoting to her refusal to enforce Trump’s executive order on travel, Yates claimed that “never in history” had an administration withheld their plans from an Attorney General. Cruz fired back that there may be good reason to withhold info if there was reason to suspect partisanship — prompting audible groans from the room, but cheers from Trump supporters following along online.
When asked whether Clapper had ever leaked either classified or unclassified information to the media, he asserted he had not.
“Well, unclassified is not leaking,” Clapper said to big laughter from the room. “Unclassified — that is somewhat of a non sequitur.”
Asked the same question, Yates said that she had spoken to reporters on background, and Clapper said he had done the same, but that it did not include sharing classified information.