Trump-Russia Hearing: Yates Says Feared Flynn Could Have Been Blackmailed by Russians

Yates says warned Trump White House On Jan 26, but Flynn only quit mid-February ■ Former intel chief Clapper says Russia 'emboldened', Wikileaks their 'tool' ■ Obama warned Trump against appointing Flynn ■

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates listens at right as former National Intelligence Director James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 8, 2017, before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing: "Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election."
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

WASHINGTON - An Obama administration official who warned the Trump White House about contacts between one of its key advisers and Russia said she was concerned he could have been blackmailed by the Russians.

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified Monday before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Obama's former National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Russia was "emboldened" to interfere in more elections after succeeding in 2016, but that there was no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Trump and Moscow. 

Flynn's name has become a central part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, which was the reason he abruptly quit the White House less than a month after Trump's inauguration.

Live updates:

1:15 AM The United States needs to do more to respond to Russia’s meddling in last year’s election, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates said.

Yates said the U.S. needs to do more to harden election systems and inform Americans about disinformation campaigns disguised as regular news reports. She added 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 noted that many states have pushed back against the idea because they fear federal intervention in the electoral process.

Clapper also said the U.S. has to do more to counter propaganda.

11:20 PM Obama's former intelligence chief Clapper called Wikileaks a Russian tool and said that "Russians will continue to do what they did in the 2016 election. Sen. Graham interjected, adding: "Until they pay a price, which we hope they soon will."

10:45 PM: Obama's former intelligence chief Clapper mistakenly talks about "Soviet" involvement in the U.S. elections, but catches his error midsentence and apologizes for the Freudian slip.

10:30 PM: Yates tells Senate she was concerned that "the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians." Elaborating, she said "every time Flynn's lies on Russia were repeated, it increased the Russians' ability to compromise him." 

Yates says she explained in late January to the White House that Flynn's conduct was problematic, and that he was misleading Vice President Pence on the nature of his ties with Russians officials. Yates said she had "two in-person meetings and one phone call with White House about General Flynn," first one taking place on January 26th. Flynn only quit his post on February 14.

10:01 PM: Yates calls hearing an "important bi-partisan step" as "Russia will continue to develop capabilities to hurt the U.S., and we need to be ready."

9:55 PM: Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, began his testimony by pushing back against allegations made by President Trump and some of his staff, that President Obama's National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, acted improperly when she asked to "unmask" the names of Trump advisers in intelligence reports about their conversations with officials from other countries, including Russia.

He also said Russia is "emboldened" to interfere in more elections after succeeding in 2016, but said there was no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russian officials.

Mike Flynn and Donald Trump, September 29, 2016.
John Locher, AP

Clapper explained the process of "unmasking" and said that it is a "proper process" that he himself has requested in the past, "to fully understand that context" of certain communications in which American citizens spoke with foreign officials. He said that the intelligence community keeps close track of every "unmasking" request by government officials who may request that, and that in 2016, there were more than a thousand such requests were approved. His explanation seemed to debunk the accusations hurled at Rice.

9:40 PM Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina opened the hearing by saying that "Every American should be concerned about what the Russians did, Russia is up to no good when it comes to democracy."

He also issued a thinly veiled reference to Trump's claim that it was possible an lonely overweight hacker was behind the leaks against the Clinton campaign, saying it was "not some 400 pound guy in another country" behind the hacks - but clearly the Russians.

Obama warned Trump

Just hours before the highly-anticipated testimony, leading U.S. news outlets reported on Monday that former-President Barack Obama warned Trump against hiring Flynn as his National Security Adviser, but Trump did so anyway, with Flynn eventually stepping down a few weeks later.

Yates' hearing is expected to fill in key details in the chain of events that led to the ouster of Michael Flynn. Ahead of the hearing, Trump lashed out at Yates and tried to distance himself from Flynn.

The February resignation followed media reports that Flynn had discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period, which was contrary to the public representations of the White House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report