WASHINGTON (CBS News) — Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, speaking publicly for the first time about concerns she brought to the Trump White House on Russia, told Congress on Monday she warned that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
The statements from Yates, an Obama administration holdover, offered by far the most detailed account of the chain of events that led to Flynn’s ouster from government in the first weeks of the Trump administration.
Yates, appearing before a Senate panel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, described discussions with Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn in late January in which she warned that Flynn apparently had misled the administration about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.
White House officials had insisted that Flynn had not discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions with Kislyak during the presidential transition period, but asked Flynn to resign after news reports indicated he had misled them about the nature of the calls.
“We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House, in part because the vice president was making false statements to the public and because we believed that Gen. Flynn was possibly compromised,” Yates said.
“We knew that was not a good situation, which is why we wanted to let the White House know about it.”
Yates was joined by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who suggested to lawmakers that the U.S. must do more to educate the electorate as to what Russia’s objective is and the tactics they used to interfere in the election.
Clapper said any further interference “will be against all parties” and that “more can be done in the way of sanctions” for any government who attempts to interfere.
Both Clapper and Yates said the U.S. needs to do more to respond to Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.
Yates says the U.S. needs to do more to harden election systems and inform Americans about disinformation campaigns disguised as regular news reports. She also says it wouldn’t hurt for the U.S. to prosecute some individuals for their roles in the interference in last year’s election.
Clapper favors making U.S. election systems part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, although he notes that many states have pushed back against the idea because they fear federal intervention in the electoral process.
Clapper also says the U.S. has to do more to counter propaganda.
Late Monday, President Trump called investigations into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election meddling a “taxpayer funded charade” and a “total hoax.”
Trump weighed in on Twitter following Monday’s hearing.
The president tweeted Yates “said nothing but old news!”
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