Sally Yates testifies on Flynn-Russia contacts

The 'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," May 8, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We felt like the vice president was entitled to know that the information he had been given and that he was relaying to the American public wasn't true. And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

We told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Sally Yates, she was the acting attorney general until she was fired by President Trump over the executive order on the travel ban and not moving forward with that, defending it. She is talking about warning the White House Counsel about Michael Flynn, the national security adviser at the time.

There you see December 29th, Obama administration announcing sanctions against Russia. You have Flynn speaking with the Russian ambassador multiple times that day. January 26th, Sally Yates warns the White House Counsel Don McGahn about Flynn lying and saying that could potentially compromise him. February 8th, Flynn denies discussing the sanctions with Russian officials in a Washington Post piece. He then has to say he has no recollection of discussing sanctions. February 13th, Flynn resigns from his national security adviser post.

That is where we are, testimony today, a long hearing. Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard; Mercedes Schlapp, columnist for The Washington Times; Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for Politico, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Steve, thoughts on the day.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: What we need most in all of this discussion that we've been having now for five plus months is new information. We need something to break through, we need some clarity on what's happened. We didn't get that today.

I think what we got was more of the same. Mike Flynn made mistakes, exercised bad judgment. But on question after question, both James Clapper and Sally Yates hid behind classification. One would hope that if this matter continues, and we are certain that it will, somebody somewhere will say we need to see this stuff. The American public needs to see this stuff. Whether you are talking about transcripts of what Mike Flynn said in his conversation with Sergey Kislyak, whether you're talking about requests for unmasking, all of these things that are being debated are being debated without the benefit of the public seeing what is actually the substantive claim being made.

BAIER: One thing we did learn, The New York Times had a piece in which they said the former president, or as he was president, leaving, "Mr. Obama, who had fired General Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told President Trump that he would have profound concerns about Mr. Flynn becoming a top national security aide." It goes on to say that Flynn's name came up during the broader discussion about personnel issues and Mr. Obama's concerns about Mr. Flynn were largely about his mismanagement. And he goes on about warning Trump about Flynn. Here is Sean Spicer asked that question today.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's true that the president, President Obama made it known that he wasn't exactly a fan of General Flynn's, which, frankly, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone given that General Flynn had worked for President Obama, was an outspoken critic of President Obama's shortcomings. If President Obama was truly concerned about General Flynn, why didn't he suspend General Flynn's security clearance which they had just reapproved a month earlier? Additionally, why did the Obama administration let Flynn go to Russia for a paid speaking engagement?


BAIER: Anna?

ANNA PALMER, POLITICO: Certainly I think what we are seeing is the White House trying to push back on the narrative that the Obama administration gave them much of a heads up that they thought Flynn wasn't going to be a good actor for them. I think we saw this with what Donald Trump was trying to tweet to send some signals to Senate Republicans about what he wanted to hear from them.

BAIER: Those tweets, "General Flynn was given the high security clearance by the Obama administration but the fake news seldom likes talking about that." And then the president tweeting "Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it White House counsel." Mercedes, those questions were asked, and they said they didn't know.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WASHINGTON TIMES: They didn't know, and I think one of the things they kept going back to was the fact, well, we have to go into a classified setting in order to have these sorts of discussions. But there are multiple storylines going on during this testimony, one being the Republicans focusing, honing in on the leaks of the classified information, also the executive order where Yates basically said that she didn't support the executive order. She thought it was unlawful. And then the Democrats on the other hand still probing, are there Russian ties between the Trump campaign officials and the Russians basically?

So I think for Yates in general, that storyline of the leaks and who got that information, I think Lindsey Graham honed in on it to say you know, Clapper, that there is very few people have access to the information, and he wants to get down to the bottom of this.

BAIER: Yes, and the unmasking of the names. There is a paper trail somewhere at the NSA of who ordered it.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, there are several storylines, and these hours and hours of hearings advanced not one of them. We learned nothing today that we didn't know yesterday. This is a classic case of a video event that lives only to dramatize things but not to add to our fund of knowledge. And we live in an age where that can sometimes work, the video of the United Airlines guy. If it hadn't been on video, we never would have talked about it. But because it was dramatized, it became a huge event.

There is nothing that was said today that we didn't already know. The only result of these hours of hearings is that Sally Yates is now a Democratic star and she needs to pick a state and run for the Senate. She is a rising candidate for the future. And her answer on the question why did you resign at all that was exactly right. It would be nice if we had a tradition in our government where people resign on principle. You could say it was a cheap shot. She was leaving three days later anyway. But it's refreshing, I don't think since Cyrus Vance and the Iran raid in 1979 have we had a high official who resigns and then the administration was right to fire her. If you can't carry out the president's orders, you are gone. So everything was right on both sides. But the bottom line is we learned zero.

BAIER: If The Washington Post had not come out with this story, this is a question I asked Brit earlier, is Michael Flynn still national security adviser today?

KRAUTHAMMER: No, because he would have screwed up on something else between then and now, and that's the only reason.


BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: On the question of President Obama saying he warned President Trump about Mike Flynn, that's a bit disingenuous from President Obama. Mike Flynn was one of President Obama's harshest critics, particularly as it relates to Islamic radicalism, the growth of Al Qaeda and ISIS. And Mike Flynn was 100 percent right about that. Whatever you think about what he did hear, whatever you think about his explanation since, he was right about that. He was sounding the alarm at a time when President Obama was saying that Al Qaeda was on the run. They weren't on the run and Mike Flynn was right about that.

Having said that, the idea that Sean Spicer would say, well, you know, the Obama administration should've pulled mike Flynn's clearances, can you imagine how the Trump campaign would have responded if the Obama administration had pulled his clearances as he is campaigning for Donald Trump?

SCHLAPP: The Trump campaign should have worried about vetting Michael Flynn, having that be a primary job so they would have avoided this headache that now they have. But I do think one of the questions that has been raised during the testimony, and I think it's worth pursuing is, why did the Trump administration keep Flynn on from that January 28, the 18 days when they had this information and Flynn was still attending classified briefings and in these calls? I think that's critical.

BAIER: Senator Franken posited that perhaps it's because he was concerned about other people and other communications, and he just threw that out there in the hearing, saying this is maybe one of the reasons. Nobody answered, said I have no answer for you, but he just kind of threw it out there. So clearly that's the thinking of where the Democrats are in their head.

I want to play this sound bite. This is from "Meet the Press" and Senator Lindsey Graham asked about this, whether Clapper sticks by it.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We did not include any evidence in our report, and when I say "our," that is NSA, FBI, CIA with my office, the director of national intelligence, that had anything -- that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand that, but does it exist?

CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Is that still accurate?


YATES: My answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information. I think Director Clapper also said that he was unaware of the FBI counterintelligence investigation.


BAIER: Just putting that all together for the audience, you have this report that is said to be signed off by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, not every intelligence -- but essentially the director of national intelligence is giving this report and coming to the conclusion that they didn't have evidence of collusion. Sally Yates is saying I can't talk about it because there was an ongoing investigation that he didn't know about.

PALMER: That's the question here. Clapper stood by that testimony saying to the best of his knowledge, again today, that it wasn't happening. But it appears there was an investigation happening, that for whatever reason people beneath him weren't giving him that information.

BAIER: So is it because it was in its infancy it just didn't make it into the report? I mean, it seems like a big disconnect here. And now we are well into this administration and we still don't have evidence of collusion. It is not there yet. But Democrats continue to say that it's there, essentially.

KRAUTHAMMER: Of course. What else do they have? When you say it's not there yet, that assumes it's going to come out. What is going to come out? I don't even understand what "collusion" means.

BAIER: Knowing when the WikiLeaks was going to be released, orchestrating the timing of the "Access Hollywood" tape comes out and then the emails are released same day.

KRAUTHAMMER: If that's what was going on, there'd be so many parties involved, the idea that we would have no evidence of that right now, wouldn't have been leaked to any of the news organizations, is highly improbable. And I think it's just the Democrats pursuing a conspiracy theory. When I heard the senator from Minnesota, Franken, talking about his tremendously elaborate theory, I was thinking, who gave him the tinfoil hat? That is so way out there. It's a great theory. It would make a great novel, but show me evidence, what you've got, people who are involved with the Russians and you get Russians involved in the election without a shred of evidence connecting them. So until you get it, it's a concoction by the Democrats. I am open to evidence. Show it to me.

BAIER: Just moments ago the president tweeted "Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today. She said nothing but old news." So we will wrap up this panel on that.

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