With Sally Yates and James Clapper both scheduled to testify before Congress at 2:30pm today, Donald Trump had several suggestions for the list of questions for Ms. Yates, which he decided to share this morning over Twitter. “Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Council”, Trump tweeted, referring to Yates’ conversation with White House counsel Donald McGahn. And while we doubt that this particular concern will be addressed, a new report from NBC suggests that a more unpleasant line of questioning may emerge, one having to do with why Trump hired his now former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn after he was reportedly warned by Obama not to do so.
As NBC reports, Obama had warned Trump against hiring Mike Flynn as his national security adviser less than 48 hours after the November election when the two sat down for a 90-minute conversation in the Oval Office.
A senior Trump administration official acknowledged Monday that Obama raised the issue of Flynn, saying the former president made clear he was “not a fan of Michael Flynn.” Another official said Obama’s remark seemed like it was made in jest.
Obama’s warning pre-dated concerns inside the government about Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador, one of NBC’s sources said. Obama passed along a general caution that he believed Flynn was not suitable for such a high level post, the official added. As a reminder, the Obama administration fired Flynn in 2014 from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, largely because of mismanagement and temperament issues.
Shortly after the conversation between the two, Trump named Flynn as his national security adviser. Flynn, who was conducting private conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions, was then fired three weeks into the administration for misleading Vice President Pence about those conversations.
Which brings us to today’s Yates questioning, where a far more likely line of questioning will be what, if anything, did Trump know about his national security adviser’s conversations with the Russian ambassador? In light of today’s news, the answer may be unpleasant for the president.
In a second tweet on Monday morning, Trump also noted that “General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama administration, but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that.” And while it is true that Flynn got his top level security clearance renewed in January 2016, Trump failed to note that Flynn should have received a more thorough vetting in advance of his becoming national security adviser, a job that allows access to the nation’s most closely-held secrets. What was the nature of that vetting, and did it raise any flags about Flynn’s lobbying work for Turkish interests during the campaign, or his paid appearance on behalf of Russian state media, both now under scrutiny by law enforcement agencies? The White House hasn’t said.
Another big question that has never been answered: Did Flynn coordinate with the president over his repeated contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak? Those contacts raised alarms not only within the Obama administration, but within Trump’s own transition team, according to reports Friday confirmed by NBC News. There were concerns that the Trump administration was signaling Russia not to worry about the Obama administration sanctions on Russia over its election interference, which expelled Russian intelligence officers from the U.S. and blocked access to Russian diplomatic compounds here.
Still, Trump may be spared some embarrassment, because as NBC adds, “people familiar with her plans don’t expect her to get into much detail about her warnings regarding Flynn, largely because many of the underlying facts involve classified material.”
In advance of her testimony, Republicans have been accusing her of acting politically, and noting that she was fired by Trump for refusing to enforce his travel ban. They call her a partisan Democrat.
In response, her defenders point out that she spent much of her 27-year Justice Department career working as a line prosecutor, a non-political job. Though she was appointed to positions in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, she was widely respected on both sides of the aisle. Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, her home state senator, was among those introducing her at her 2015 confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general.
In light of these latest revelations, media attention will be heightened during Yates’ official testimony since leaving the DOJ. Keep an eye on Trump’s twitter account: the President will surely be closely following along with everything she says too, especially if allegations of Trump’s “Russian connection” are once again brought to the surface.