The White House on Tuesday denied that it had attempted to block former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying in an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration attempted to block Yates from testifying.
That open hearing was cancelled on Friday, the same day Yates’ lawyer sent a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn. In the letter, he notified the White House that certain presidential privileges, which the Justice Department had claimed may prevent Yates from speaking openly, had “been waived as a result of the multiple public comments of current senior White House officials describing” issues that Yates was expected to address during the hearing.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in an emailed statement to TPM, called the Post’s story “entirely false.”
“The White House has taken no action to prevent Sally Yates from testifying and the Department of Justice specifically told her that it would not stop her and to suggest otherwise is completely irresponsible,” he continued.
Jack Langer, a spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee, told TPM in an email that “[n]either Chairman Nunes nor any Intelligence Committee staff members had any communication with the White House whatsoever about Sally Yates testifying to the Committee.”
“The only person the Committee has spoken to about her appearing before the Committee has been her lawyer,” he continued. “The Committee asked her to testify on our own accord and we still intend to have her speak to us.”
The White House did not respond to further questions about whether it had asked Yates not to discuss any specific non-confidential information with the committee. Nor did Langer answer questions about when Yates was expected to appear in front of the committee, in light of Tuesday’s cancelled appearance.
A Justice Department official pointed TPM to one department lawyer’s response to Yates’ attorney.
“[T]o the extent Ms. Yates needs consent to disclose the details of those communications to [the House intelligence committee], she needs to consult with the White House,” Scott Schools wrote. “She need not obtain separate consent from the department.”
The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, has called on Nunes’ to recuse himself from the committee’s investigation into possible ties between Russian officials and Trump staffers. The committee has also looked into President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that former President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.
“Whether the White House’s desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today’s hearing, we do not know,” Schiff said in part in a statement Tuesday. “But we would urge that the open hearing be rescheduled without further delay and that Ms. Yates be permitted to testify freely and openly so that the public may understand, among other matters, when the President was informed that his national security advisor had misled the Vice President and through him, the country, and why the President waited as long as he did to fire Mr. Flynn.”
Nunes cancelled the open hearing on Friday to clear the schedule, he said, for a closed session with the FBI and NSA directors – which was itself cancelled abruptly Monday afternoon.
Yates was fired from the Justice Department after she refused to defend Trump’s original travel ban, which indefinitely halted the United States’ refugee program and travel from Syria to the United States, as well as temporarily suspending travel from six other Muslim-majority countries.
Yates also played an essential role, as the Post noted, in exposing ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s lies to the White House about his discussions of sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States before Trump took office.
This post has been updated.