Twice in the past week, testimony on Capitol Hill may have given President Donald Trump some indigestion over the course of an FBI investigation into Russian influence in his government.
Legislators repeatedly asked FBI Director James Comey at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing May 3 about the scope of the bureau’s probe into Russian influence during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“We’re conducting an investigation to understand whether there was any coordination between the Russian efforts and anybody associated with the Trump campaign,” Comey told the panel.
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, asked Comey: “Can you tell us more about what constitutes that investigation?”
“No,” Comey responded.
Trump, who fired Comey Tuesday, made a point of spelling out in a letter to Comey Tuesday that he was grateful to him for “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation…”
When Trump may have heard those assurances from Comey is not clear, and Comey’s refusal to offer details of the ongoing investigation left uncertainty over how far the Russia probe had advanced and how close it was getting to Trump’s inner circle.
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who Trump fired Jan. 30, appeared at a lengthy hearing Monday before another Senate Judiciary subcommittee and offered further details about her efforts to alert the Trump White House about then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russians.
Yates told senators that FBI agents had gone to the White House and questioned Flynn in his office on Jan. 24. When Yates went to the White House on Jan. 26 to discuss with White House counsel Donald F. McGahn “a very sensitive matter” that could only be talked about face to face, “he asked me how (Flynn) did and I declined to give him an answer to that.”
But Yates did provide McGahn with details about Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and his subsequent lying about it to Vice President Mike Pence. She said the Russians could use the fact that Flynn lied to his superiors to blackmail him.
Yates said McGahn asked her whether firing Flynn would derail the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia’s activities, voicing concern about that possibility.
Yates said McGahn “should not be concerned” about the investigation and suggested that the Justice Department expected action against Flynn.
“I remember specifically saying, you know it wouldn’t really be fair of us to tell you this and then expect you to sit on your hands,” Yates testified.
Yates went back to the White House at McGahn’s request on Jan. 27 in a meeting in which she promised to allow White House officials to come over to the Justice Department “to review the underlying evidence,” which was highly classified.
Yates told the panel that “we were really concerned about the compromise here, and that was the reason why we were encouraging them to act. I don’t know what steps they may have taken, if any, during that 18 days to minimize any risk.”
Questions about why it took the White House nearly three weeks to act on information that Flynn had been untruthful continue to linger despite the firing of both Yates and Comey.