White House Denies Trying To Silence Evidence Of Russia Ties
The White House has denied it tried to stop potentially damaging evidence about links between the President’s team and Russia from being made public.
Reports that government lawyers had tried to silence former acting attorney general Sally Yates have been described as “100% false” by White House spokesman Sean Spicer.
Ms Yates had been expected to tell a congressional intelligence committee on Wednesday what she knows about meetings between Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Gen Flynn was fired by Mr Trump after intelligence leaked to journalists showed public assurances made by Vice President Mike Pence that he had not discussed sanctions with the ambassador were false.
In letters made public by the Washington Post, a senior justice department lawyer was quoted as advising Ms Yates’ lawyer that her inside information is “likely covered by the presidential communications privilege”.
The lawyer added: “The President owns those privileges[…] she needs to consult with the White House.”
When the White House was told she would not be silenced, a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee at which she was scheduled to give evidence was abruptly cancelled by its Republican chairman Devin Nunes, a former Trump transition team member.
Mr Nunes is leading one of three investigations into the swirling allegations of Russian interference in the election, while separate inquiries are being conducted by the Senate and the FBI.
Mr Spicer told journalists that the White House had “encouraged” Ms Yates, who was sacked by the president for not backing his travel ban, to give evidence.
“If she testifies, then great,” he said.
Mr Nunes, who has given no explanation for cancelling the hearing, was already facing calls to step down from leading his committee’s inquiry.
Last week he briefed Mr Trump on documents detailing surveillance of Mr Trump’s team without discussing it with committee members.
He later admitted he was handed the documents at a mystery meeting in the White House grounds with an unnamed source.
Mr Spicer told journalists that Mr Nunes was not put under any pressure by the White House to cancel any meetings, and that whoever showed him the intelligence documents was “100% legal, appropriate and [security] cleared”.