Al Franken has certainly made his mark in this Congressional session. He seems to really hit his stride in hearings. The ironic part about that is that Franken, unlike most Senators in general and most Senators who sit on the Judiciary Committee, is not a lawyer. Franken made some marks during the Neil Gorsuch confirmation hearing, although his persuasive arguments fell short in derailing the nomination. The same goes for the Betsy DeVos hearings. Franken made headlines and caused much debate over her competency. Unfortunately for Franken, he fell one vote short of persuading enough Republicans to reject the nomination.
Franken did have some success when it comes to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Although he and the Democrats did narrowly fail to defeat his nomination, Franken’s questioning was key in forcing the Attorney General to recuse himself from any investigations involving Russia and the Trump campaign.
Today, Franken had an opportunity to question former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former DNI head, James Clapper. Franken here did get off to a rough start, to be fair … but by the end, he did some serious damage to Trump and those who still cling to the notion that they are innocent in all this. (see video below …)
Franken began by asking Clapper about the “17 intelligence agencies” that supported the Intelligence assessment that Russia was the one who interfered in our elections. Clapper corrected Franken in the sense that the investigation was limited to just three of the 17 agencies, but Clapper did add that no one from any agency has contradicted the findings or raised an objection. Basically, a distinction without a difference.
The Minnesota Senator went on to question Yates:
FRANKEN: OK. And — and General Flynn received $37,000 for sitting next to Putin at the 10th anniversary of Russia today. It seems — all this seems very odd to me and raised a lot of questions.
I was struck that Mr. McGahn did not ask you in the second meeting why DOJ, General Yates, would have concerns that the — that the national security advisor had lied to the vice president. In the first meeting, did you mention that? That that was — that he might be compromised?
YATES: Certainly, we went through all of our concerns in the first meeting. And it was in the second meeting that he just raised the question of essentially, why is this an issue for the Department of Justice if one White House official lies to another.
FRANKEN: OK I don’t understand why he didn’t understand that.
YATES: I’m not sure I can help you with that, Senator.
FRANKEN: This is — General Flynn after that, for 18 days stayed there and was in one classified thing after another. There are policies that deal with who gets clearance, security clearance and not.
The executive order 12968 outlines the rules for security clearances and says that when there is a credible allegation that raises concern about someone’s fitness to access classified information, that person’s clearance should be suspended, pending investigations, is that right?
The executive order also states that clearance holders must always demonstrate, quote, “trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion and sound judgment, as well as freedom from allegiances and potential for coercion.” Is that right?
And yet, the White House Council did not understand why the Department of Justice was concerned. YATES: Well, to be fair to Mr. McGahn, I think the issue that he raised, he wasn’t clear on was why we cared that Michael Flynn had lied to the vice president and others, why that was a matter of …
FRANKEN: I think that’s clear.
YATES: Within DOJ jurisdiction.
FRANKEN: I think that’s so clear, I can’t…
FRANKEN: And the president had told — President Obama had told the incoming president-elect two days after the election, don’t hire this guy.
YATES: I don’t know anything about that.
FRANKEN: Well, that’s what we’ve heard.
Franken was referring to a report that surfaced just hours before the hearing claiming that President Obama had warned Donald Trump not to hire General Flynn. At a press conference right before the hearings, Sean Spicer confirmed those reports.
Franken then went into the meat of what he wanted to talk about. Franken walked Yates through the whole ordeal, and then speculated on why Flynn, the White House legal counsel, and Trump himself might be acting the way they are:
FRANKEN: And we have McGahn doesn’t understand what’s wrong with this? And then we have Spicer, the press secretary, saying the president was told about this. The president was told about this in late January, according to the press secretary.
So now he’s got a guy who has been, the former president said, don’t hire this guy. He’s clearly compromised. He’s lied to the vice president. And he keeps him on, and he lets him be in all these classified phone — lets him talk with Putin. President of the United States and the national security adviser sit in the oval office and discuss this with Putin.
Is it possible that the reason that he didn’t fire him then was that, well, if I fire him for talking to the Russians about sanctions, and if I fire — what about all the other people on my team, who coordinated? I mean, isn’t it possible that the reason — because you ask yourself, why wouldn’t you fire a guy who did this? And all I can think of is that he would say, well, we’ve got all these other people in the administration who have had contacts. We have all these other people in the administration who coordinated, who are talking. Maybe that. I’m just trying to — we’re trying to put a puzzle together here, everybody.
And maybe, just maybe, he didn’t get rid of a guy who lied to the vice president, who got paid by the Russians, who went on Russia Today, because there are other people in his administration who met secretly with the Russians and didn’t reveal it until later, until they were caught. That may be why it took him 18 days, until it became public, to get rid of Mike Flynn, who is a danger to this republic.
Care to comment? (LAUGHTER)
YATES: I don’t think I’m going to touch that, senator. Thank you.
Yates was in no position to “confirm or deny” what Franken laid out considering all the classified information she might need to reveal in order to do so. But based on her unwillingness to correct him in any way, one might speculate that the Minnesota Senator might have been pretty close to the mark.
Only time will tell.
Check out Senator Franken’s entertaining and perhaps “too close for comfort” (if one is in the White House) questioning of Yates and Clapper below:
Regardless of how accurate Franken’s assessment was or wasn’t, surely the nation will be asking questions like “why did Donald Trump keep Flynn on after learning this information for 18 more days?” Other “what did the President know, and when did he know it?” questions are sure to follow.