White House

Spicer slams 'false' report claiming ex-official blocked from testifying to Nunes panel

Spicer Spicer pushes back against 'false report' that White House sought to block the former acting attorney general's appearance before the House Intelligence Committee

 

The White House fired back Tuesday at a report claiming former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was blocked by Trump administration officials from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

Yates, an Obama administration appointee who previously served as deputy AG, was fired by President Trump in January after she refused to defend the president's travel ban. The Washington Post reported she was blocked from testifying at a hearing originally expected for Tuesday because the topics she intended to discuss were covered by what's known as executive privilege.

During the White House briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer flat-out denied there was any truth to the report.

"I hope she testifies. I look forward to it," Spicer shot back, when asked about the article.

"The report in the Washington Post is 100 percent false," Spicer told reporters.

A senior administration official also told Fox News in an email earlier Tuesday, "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."

The conflicting claims over Yates are the latest turn in the developing controversy involving the House Intelligence Committee's work on the Russia investigation. FBI Director James Comey testified last week to the committee that his bureau was investigating possible ties between Russia and Trump campaign associates, while rejecting Trump assertions that his team may have been subject to surveillance by the Obama administration.

Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., later claimed he's learned that Trump transition team communications may have been incidentally picked up during surveillance operations. After reports he reviewed secret documents on White House grounds, top Democrats called on him to recuse himself from Russia matters -- a call he has rejected, with support from House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, on Tuesday claimed Yates was planning to provide information to Nunes' committee that likely would contradict White House statements. At the same committee session, the panel also was planning to hear from former CIA Director John Brennan.

But sources said the committee abruptly canceled the hearing, after Yates' lawyer sent a letter to the White House.

The Friday letter from lawyer David A. O'Neil to White House Counsel Don McGahn said: "If I do not receive a response by Monday, March 27, at 10 am EDT, I will conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege over these matters with respect to the hearing or other settings."

O'Neil had written that committee staff had informed Yates she would be questioned on the "January 2017 communications regarding concerns about the conduct of a senior White House official." In the letter obtained by Fox News, O'Neil also argued that "any claim of privilege has been waived as a result of the multiple public comments of current senior White House officials describing the January 2017 communications."

The White House did not provide a response, and Yates and her lawyer then believed they tacitly had approval to speak to the committee. While the hearing was canceled, Spicer said Tuesday the White House was not opposed to her testimony. 

Serafin Gomez is a White House Producer for FOX News Channel, who also covered the 2016 election as a Special Events & Politics producer and former special campaign correspondent for Fox News Latino. Fin formerly worked as the Miami Bureau Producer for Fox News Channel where he covered Florida Politics & Latin America. Follow him on Twitter: @Finnygo