Sally Yates, the official who alerted the Trump administration to the fact that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was lying about his conversations with Russian officials, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, ostensibly about Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Democrats on the committee have asked a number of pertinent questions about what Yates knew, when she knew it, and what she told the White House. It has produced memorable lines like this:
From Yates’s testimony, it’s become clear that she forcefully warned the White House that Flynn might be compromised by the Russians two weeks before Flynn resigned—and that the White House did not seem to recognize the seriousness of this allegation.
Republicans on the committee, however, have wanted to talk about anything except the relationship between Flynn and Russia. Senator Lindsey Graham kicked things off by asking Yates and Clapper repeatedly about who requested the unmasking of the conversations between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Chuck Grassley asked Yates and Clapper why the FBI did not investigate the Democratic National Committee servers that were supposedly hacked by the Russians—echoing a point that Trump has made repeatedly on Twitter.
John Cornyn asked Yates about the Muslim travel ban, which has nothing to do with Russia. (She was fired for oppositing it.) That led to what was probably the most entertaining exchange of the hearing thus far. Yates dunked on Cornyn after reminding him that he had previously asked her if she would refuse to enforce illegal laws or otherwise act in a manner not befitting of the Department of Justice.
And then Ted Cruz asked about Hillary Clinton’s emails—before asking again about the travel ban. He got dunked on too.
This is the Senate Judiciary Committee, not the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has presented itself as the grown-up investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But there is nothing about the questioning of Yates and Clapper that feels bipartisan at all. Instead, the Republicans are covering for Donald Trump by playing up tangential stories that obfuscate the issue at hand: that Donald Trump’s national security advisor was compromised by the Russian government.