Did Yates Testimony Shed Light On Flynn's Russian Contacts?

May 9, 2017
Originally published on May 9, 2017 8:11 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's talk - turn now to one of the senators who was in the room questioning Sally Yates yesterday. It's Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, welcome back. Thanks for coming on.

CHRIS COONS: Thank you, great to be with you.

GREENE: Did you get any clarity yesterday on the proverbial who knew what when?

COONS: We got great clarity that Sally Yates made a special appointment at the White House with White House counsel on January 26 and laid out her concerns about the underlying conduct of then-National Security Adviser General Flynn. She was called back the next day for a more detailed meeting. And she testified to us that she was asked by the White House counsel why it was a concern of the Department of Justice if one executive branch official was lying to another.

And she made it perfectly clear that it was because of legitimate concerns that the Russians had proof that the national security adviser was lying. And as she put it, you just don't want your national security adviser being compromised by the Russians.

GREENE: So that's...

COONS: She also testified that she was asked pointedly whether the national security adviser could be criminally prosecuted and under what statutes.

GREENE: And do you think the national security adviser should be criminally prosecuted for any of this?

COONS: Well, she would not testify to the specifics about what the general's underlying conduct was that would lead to a criminal charge, but it seems to me increasingly clear both because he failed to reveal the payments that he got from Turkey and from Russia Today and because of his likely lying about his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak that he may very well be at some criminal risk.

GREENE: Are you and other Democrats talking about really targeting Michael Flynn in the coming weeks and months possibly with criminal charges?

COONS: Well, that's not our call. That's up to the Department of Justice. We can't initiate criminal proceedings against him. But it's just another layer of the smoke billowing out of the history of the Trump campaign. General Flynn was a central adviser to the Trump campaign. And what I came away with after yesterday's hearing was even more serious questions about why the White House failed to act to remove this man.

My question was not just why was he in the White House, but why was he in the Situation Room for 18 days after a blindingly clear warning was given that this man had been compromised by our adversary, the Russians? The larger question is why President Trump won't step up and say the Russians hacked our election, this is a matter of national security on a bipartisan basis, let's get to the bottom of it. I really commend Senator Lindsey Graham for having done that with yesterday's hearing.

GREENE: Your Republican colleague. Let me just ask you the significance of yesterday. I mean, you have Sally Yates saying that you do not want a national security adviser compromised for a period of time, but do you have any evidence that the Russians did anything with this information, having the goods on Michael Flynn during these 18 days?

COONS: We don't have that concrete evidence, but frankly a lot of what we asked Sally Yates and Director Clapper yesterday, they had to say we can only tell you that in a classified setting. The Senate Intelligence Committee is moving forward with their bipartisan investigation into some of these more sensitive underlying facts. And it's my hope that they will continue to make progress.

GREENE: And just in the few seconds we have left, I mean, step back for me. All this investigating so far of Russia's behavior, possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, has anything risen to the level where you think - where you're demanding some kind of action?

COONS: I'm demanding action to protect our democracy in 2018 and 2022. Given what just happened in France, where there was a very suspicious last-minute dump of hacked emails to try and skew the election in favor of the candidate that Moscow favored, we should be on notice that our next elections are genuinely at risk.

GREENE: All right, Delaware senator - Democratic Senator Chris Coons. Thanks so much, as always. We appreciate it, Senator.

COONS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.