House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) canceled a hearing on Russia where former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was to testify the same day the Trump administration voiced objections to him about her planned testimony.
Yates briefly led the agency while Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE moved through Senate confirmation, but was fired by Trump after she refused to defend in court his executive order temporarily banning all refugees and immigrants from a handful of Muslim-majority countries.
After she was fired, it was revealed that Yates had notified the White House that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had not properly explained his contact with the Russian ambassador, according to a report published Tuesday in The Washington Post.
Flynn was later fired over the incident.
The Post report cites documents showing that the Justice Department told Yates that her testimony would have to be seriously limited because of executive privilege, which protects executive branch documents and information from having to be turned over in certain cases.
According to the series of letters, a Justice Department official told Yates's lawyer, David O'Neill, that she would need “consent” from the White House in order to discuss her conversations with the White House.
The government was told last week that testimony by Yates and former CIA Director John Brennan would conflict with comments from White House staff, according to the Post. The day after that was communicated, Nunes announced the cancelation.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer decried the Post’s report as “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,” Spicer added.
Spicer later said the White House was given a March 27 deadline by Yates' attorneys to register any objections to her testimony, who added they would take a non-response as implicit permission to go ahead.
“The White House did not respond and took no action that prevented Ms. Yates from testifying," the spokesman said. "That’s the story.”
Spicer said the committee should go ahead with a hearing that features Yates' testimony.
“I hope she testifies. I look forward to it," he said. “We didn’t respond, we encouraged them to go ahead.”
In a statement responding to the story, Democratic National Committee aide Zac Petkanas tied the White House's push to block Yates's testimony to the cancelled hearing, arguing that Nunes is working with the White House to hide information.
“Now we know why Chairman Nunes canceled the hearing today. This isn’t an investigation into Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE’s ties to Russia — it’s a cover-up," he said.
Nunes, who leads the investigation in the House, told reporters on Monday that he took a secret trip to the White House last week to meet with an intelligence source who provided him with information showing that Trump's transition team had been caught up in incidental surveillance.
The chairman has come under fire for that trip, which he made without telling Democrats on his panel what he had learned.
Democrats on Monday called for Nunes to recuse himself from any probe of Russia, which is accused of meddling in the election to help Trump.
Jordan Fabian contributed.
- Updated at 1:20 p.m.