HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: On questions of Russian meddling and hacking in the U.S. presidential election, congressional committees are probing ties and communications between Trump campaign operatives and Russia. Tomorrow, former deputy and acting Attorney General Sally Yates is scheduled to testify in public about what she knew about ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well her conversations with the Trump White House about him.
“Associated Press” reporter Eric Tucker is covering this story and joins me now from Washington.
What’s the discrepancy likely to be?
ERIC TUCKER, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: So, we are going to hear Sally Yates for the first time publicly describe a conversation that she had in January with the White House counsel. And she’s likely going to say that she warned the White House that there was a major discrepancy between what they were saying publicly about Michael Flynn’s communications with Sergey Kislyak, who was the Russian ambassador to the United States, and what actually happened, and that discrepancy is significant because from the perspective of the Obama administration and from Sally Yates, in particular, it was enough to leave Michael Flynn in a compromised position.
SREENIVASAN: And that’s a different narrative than what the Trump administration has been saying about all this.
TUCKER: Correct. So, the White House initially had said, look, Sally Yates did indeed come to us on January 26th, but mostly it was to give us a head’s up that there was a discrepancy and she wanted us to just know that. But what we expect based on what our sources are telling us, we expect Sally Yates to testify that this was not just a heads up, that this indeed was an actual alarm and a warning that you guys keep saying based on what Michael Flynn is telling you, that he didn’t discuss sanctions with Mr. Kislyak, but we know that not to be true, and that’s important.
SREENIVASAN: This was at the point — I mean, to kind of just taking us back in time a few months, to a point where the Obama administration was not actually giving information to the incoming Trump administration because they didn’t trust that this information wasn’t going to get back to the Russians.
TUCKER: That’s correct. So, my colleague Julie Pace wrote a big story on Friday suggesting that there were already these alarms that were surfacing within the Obama administration based on questions and information that the Trump transition team was asking, particularly as it related to Sergey Kislyak. So, already, you’re seeing this area of distrust developed.
SREENIVASN: Who is likely from the White House to be called up in any way, shape or form to try to rebut or clarify the testimony that Sally Yates will give tomorrow?
TUCKER: Well, the sort of point people back in February about the conversations that occurred were Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer. They were sort of out there kind of characterizing the conversations. So, we’ll see what they have to say tomorrow. The actual January 26th conversation that Sally Yates had at the White House involved White House counsel Don McGahn. So, it’s not clear if Mr. McGahn will have anything himself to say either in response.
SREENIVASAN: You know, one of the things that the White House has pointed is say, hey, listen, James Clapper, the former DNI, he said back in March when he was leaving, I haven’t seen any evidence of any conclusion?
TUCKER: That’s right. And Republicans really seem to seize on that statement as some sort of vindication. However, Clapper at the time did have a sort of important caveat when he said that, which he said, at the time I left the administration, which would have been January, and when we know from what FBI Director Jim Comey said this week, this investigation is really ongoing, and new intelligence is being reviewed, new information is being processed and assessed. So, it’s not clear how significant it is if in January, no collusion existed. That doesn’t necessarily — it’s not dispositive of anything necessarily.
SREENIVASAN: Sally Yates testimony begins tomorrow at 2:30. You can expect the “NewsHour” to cover it tomorrow night.
“Associated Press” reporter Eric Tucker — thanks for joining us.
TUCKER: Great to be here. Thank you.