Spicer: WaPo ‘Should Be Ashamed’ Over Report Claiming White House Blocked House Testimony
A Washington Post story alleging that the Trump administration blocked a former Justice Department from testifying to Congress this week “is 100 percent false,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.
“I hope she testifies. I look forward to it,” Spicer told reporters of Sally Yates, a former deputy attorney general who was slated to talk to the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
“If they choose to move forward, great, we have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple,” said Spicer.
Last week, California Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, cancelled the hearing, in which Yates was supposed to appear alongside former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The Post story alleges that the Trump administration blocked Yates from testifying, likely because of what she planned to say about Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security advisor who misled Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russia’s ambassador.
Yates, an Obama appointee who was fired in late January, also reportedly believed that the White House has made inaccurate statements about how it handled Flynn’s firing.
The Post story relies on a series of letters exchanged between Yates’ lawyers and the Justice Department to show that the White House blocked her testimony.
Based on that correspondence, the newspaper reported: “The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”
But Spicer maintains that the reporting is completely inaccurate.
“The report in the Washington Post is 100 percent false,” he said at Tuesday’s press briefing, adding later that the newspaper “should be ashamed of how they handled this story.”
“To suggest in any way, shape or form that we stood in the way of that is 100 percent false,” he stated emphatically.
According to Spicer’s timeline, the House Intelligence Committee invited Yates on March 14 to testify this Tuesday.
On March 23, Yates’ attorney asked the Justice Department whether she could testify without constraints. The Justice Department responded the next day, saying that it was possible that Yates may need the White House’s approval in order to testify.
Yates’ lawyer also sent a letter to White House general counsel Donald McGahn on Friday stating her intentions to testify barring the assertion of executive privilege. The lawyer wrote that if the White House did not respond by Monday, March 27, they would “conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege over these matters.”
Spicer noted that the White House did not respond, meaning that there was no attempt to block her from testifying.
“The White House did not respond and took no action that prevented Ms. Yates from testifying. That’s the story, and that’s what the documents show,” he said.
After The Post published its story, California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, suggested that the White House and Republicans on the committee tried to block Yates’ testimony.
“Whether the White House’s desire to avoid a public claim of executive privilege to keep her from providing the full truth on what happened contributed to the decision to cancel today’s hearing, we do not know,” he said in a statement in which he asked for an open hearing to be rescheduled.
Nunes’ office said that there was no cooperation with the White House regarding the hearing.
“Neither Chairman Nunes nor any Intelligence Committee staff members had any communication with the White House whatsoever about Sally Yates testifying to the Committee,” said Jack Langer, a spokesman for Nunes.
“The only person the Committee has spoken to about her appearing before the Committee has been her lawyer. The Committee asked her to testify on her own accord and we still intend to have her speak to us.”