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Yates, Clapper Testify On Russian Attempts To Interfere In U.S. Elections

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's what changed when a former Justice Department official testified about the Trump administration and Russia. Things that people have said privately about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn were said in public under oath. Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate committee, and she said Flynn served for a time in his sensitive job while potentially compromised by Russia. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro's here to talk about this. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hello, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what did Sally Yates fully put on the record here about Michael Flynn?

MONTANARO: You know, we knew some of this from previous reporting, but Yates, a former veteran Justice Department official, went on the record yesterday under oath and out loud. And she warned that the White House - that President - she warned that - she said that she warned the White House that President Trump's national security adviser at the time was compromised by the Russians. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SALLY YATES: It was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn had told them, and that this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromised situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

INSKEEP: Let's make sure we're following along here, Domenico. What was the information the Russians would have had on Michael Flynn exactly?

MONTANARO: Well, this all stems back to a conversation that Michael Flynn had December 29 with the Russian ambassador, could have been about those sanctions that President Obama announced that same day. Flynn had said that he didn't talk about sanctions. He told that to Vice President Mike Pence. And he apparently lied to Pence because Pence wound up going on Sunday shows talking about it. Yates warned about this. And still - still - Flynn was kept on for 18 days in the White House.

INSKEEP: Why wait so long to get rid of him?

MONTANARO: It's a good question. It's a question that a lot of people are having today. There were a lot of things that Flynn wound up talking about that had some consequence, but part of this is that Donald Trump just believes that all of this was politically motivated. And it looks like his base believes that, too.

INSKEEP: And Republicans in the Senate committee were pushing an alternative storyline.

MONTANARO: They absolutely were. They wanted to know how this information got out, rather than what the substance of the conversation was.

INSKEEP: OK. All right, thanks very much. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro this morning.

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