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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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The Trump administration has insisted for months that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was ousted in February specifically because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

That rationale was dealt a forceful blow on Monday, when former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that Flynn’s “underlying conduct was problematic in and of itself.”

Yates repeatedly circled back to Flynn’s “underlying conduct” in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism, saying she made it expressly clear to White House Counsel Don McGahn in a phone call and two in-person meetings that it was a matter of concern.

Yates said she couldn’t reveal the nature of that conduct because it was drawn from classified information. But she emphasized that Russia knew about it too, leading the Justice Department under her tenure to believe that Flynn was “compromised with respect to the Russians.”

“Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this but that they likely had proof of this information,” Yates testified. “And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is also probing into Russia’s election interference, said on Twitter that Yates’ comments about Flynn’s “conduct” were the “most striking” part of her testimony.

Yates testified that she first met with McGahn on Jan. 26 to provide detailed accounts about Flynn’s actions; how Pence and other senior Trump administration officials were unknowingly making false statements to the public about Flynn’s contacts with Russia; and Flynn’s Jan. 24 interview with the FBI at the White House.

The purpose of the conversation with McGahn, which Yates said she continued in another meeting on Jan. 27 and in a phone call on Jan. 30, was to urge the Trump White House to “take action” regarding Flynn.

That wouldn’t happen until Feb. 13, several days after the Washington Post reported that Flynn lied to Pence about discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Lauding Flynn as a “wonderful man” who was treated “very, very unfairly” by the media, Trump said he accepted Flynn’s resignation.

What exactly Flynn did to ring such alarm bells at the DOJ is unclear. But in the days since he departed the White House, many details have emerged about his work on behalf of foreign governments.

Flynn belatedly registered as a foreign agent on March 7, acknowledging that the work his consulting firm was doing while he served as a top Donald Trump campaign adviser and designated national security adviser to the President-elect “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

Flynn Intel Group was paid $530,000 between August and December 2016 by Inovo BV, a Dutch firm run by a Turkish businessman, according to Flynn’s filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

While he was privy to classified national security secrets, Flynn was meeting with senior Turkish officials and overseeing research and promotional materials for Inovo.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed Flynn’s lobbying work as a “personal matter, a business matter,” although it was twice brought to the attention of the administration during the transition. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) warned Pence about Flynn’s work for Inovo in a Nov. 18, 2016 letter, while Flynn’s lawyer reportedly told McGahn about it during the transition.

Politico later reported that Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman who runs Inovo, has extensive business ties to Russia. Alptekin ran his lobbying efforts with Ukraine-born businessman Dmitri Zaikin, and both men have negotiated business deals with Vladimir Putin’s government, according to Politico.

In late March, Flynn offered to be interviewed by the FBI and both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in exchange for a grant of immunity. None of those parties appear to have accepted his offer.

Last year, Flynn said that receiving immunity “means you probably committed a crime.”

The ousted national security adviser’s legal headaches worsened in early April after financial disclosure firms released by the White House revealed that he failed to inform it and the Office of Government Ethics about speaking fees he received from three Russia-linked firms.

In an amended financial filing submitted after he left the administration, Flynn disclosed that he was paid by an air freight company tied to the Russia-based Volga-Dnepr Group, a subsidiary of the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, and Kremlin-backed propaganda outlet RT.

The Trump administration has brushed off responsibility for adequately vetting Flynn before bringing him onboard, shifting the blame onto the Obama administration for granting Flynn a national security clearance and then not revoking it when concerns arose.

An hour before Yates appeared before the Senate panel and detailed her repeated, forceful warnings about Flynn’s “problematic” conduct, Spicer acknowledged reports that former President Barack Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn two days after the real estate mogul won the election, saying Obama made it clear that “he wasn’t exactly a fan.”

If there was “truly a concern,” Spicer insisted in his daily briefing, the Obama administration should have suspended Flynn’s security clearance long ago.

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Casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the presidential election, as President Donald Trump frequently does, “helps the Russians,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified Monday.

“Does it serve any purpose for high officials like the President to say, well it could have been somebody else?” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked Clapper during a highly-anticipated Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

“You could rationalize that it helps the Russians by obfuscating who was actually responsible,” Clapper replied, describing the evidence that Russia was behind cyberhacking and propaganda efforts that influenced the 2016 race as “overwhelming.”

Throughout the campaign and as recently as last week, Trump has said that it was impossible to determine who was behind the effort to hack Democratic organizations’ and operatives’ emails.

“If you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking,” the president said in a May 1 interview with CBS “Face the Nation.” “Could have been China, could have been a lot of different groups.”

Trump also suggested during a September presidential debate with Hillary Clinton that “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” could have been responsible. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), the chairman of the subcommittee holding Monday’s hearing, skewered that line in his opening statement.

“It was the Russians who hacked Podesta’s e-mails, it was the Russians who broke into the Democratic National Committee, and it was the Russians who helped empower Wikileaks,” Graham said, referring to John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager. “From my point of view, there’s no doubt in my mind it was the Russians involved in all the things I just described, not some 400-pound guy sitting on a bed or any other country.”

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Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) on Monday took a swipe at former acting Attorney General Sally Yates over her refusal to enforce the Trump administration’s first travel ban, asking her, “Who appointed you to the Supreme Court?”

Kennedy devoted most of his allotted time during Monday’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Russia’s interference in the election to questioning Yates’ authority to oppose President Donald Trump’s ban.

“Do you believe it’s constitutional or unconstitutional?” Kennedy asked.

Yates said she thought the order, which would prevent refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S., would violate the constitutional protection ensuring freedom of religion.

“There was no way in the world I could send folks in there to argue something that we didn’t believe to be the truth,” she said.

After an extended back-and-forth with Kennedy, Yates told him that she was “of course” not a Supreme Court justice.

“Look, we really wrestled over this decision,” she said. “I personally wrestled over this decision. It was not one that I took lightly at all. But it was because I took my responsibilities seriously.”

“I believe that it is the responsibility of the attorney general, if the president asks him or her to do something that he or she believes is unlawful or unconstitutional, to say no,” Yates added.

Other Republican senators, most notably Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), chastised Yates during the hearing for refusing to enforce Trump’s ban.

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Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday defended her decision not to enforce President Donald Trump’s original executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, arguing it was “unlawful” and “inconsistent with the principles of the Department of Justice.”

On Capitol Hill to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee investigating Russia’s interference in the U.S. election, Yates was instead pressed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) about her refusal to enforce the Trump administration’s so-called travel ban.

“What is your authority to overrule the Office of Legal Counsel?” Cornyn asked Yates.

Yates said that the Office of Legal Counsel looks only at the face of an executive order to determine “whether there is some set of circumstances under which at least some part of the executive order may be lawful.” She added that the office does not look at statements that may bear on the “intent and purpose” of an executive order, which she did.

“I don’t know how you can say it was lawful and say that it was within your prerogative to refuse the court of law and leave it to the court to decide,” Cornyn said later in the exchange.

“Senator, I did not say it was lawful,” Yates said. “I said it was unlawful.”

Cornyn tried to frame Yates’ decision as a partisan move made by a former Obama administration official that broke with the DOJ’s “longstanding tradition of defending a presidential action in court if there are reasonable arguments in its favor.”

“The civil division of the Department of Justice will defend an action of a President or an action of congress if there is a reasonable argument to be made,” Yates told Cornyn. “But in this instance, all arguments have to be based on truth. Because we’re the Department of Justice. We’re not just a law firm.”

Noting that he voted for her confirmation, Cornyn said he found it “enormously disappointing” that she overruled the Office of Legal Counsel and countermanded the executive order because she “happen[ed] to disagree with it as a policy matter.”

Yates referred back to her 2015 confirmation hearing, recalling an exchange in which then-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions asked if she would decline to act “if the President asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional and one of your colleagues or even that would reflect poorly on the Department of Justice.”

“I looked at this,” Yates went on. “I made a determination that I believe it was unlawful. I also thought that it was inconsistent with principles of the Department of Justice. And I said no. And that’s what I promised you I would do. That’s what I did.”

Sessions is now Trump’s Attorney General.

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Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified Monday that she first warned the White House days after inauguration that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled members of the Trump administration about his contacts with Russian officials, and that Russia knew about those conversations.

“We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House because, in part, the Vice President was unknowingly making false statements to the public, and because we believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates said in a highly-anticipated hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism.

Yates said she and a member of the Justice Department’s national security division met with White House Counsel Don McGahn in his office on Jan. 26 to let him know that Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials were going on the record with comments about Flynn’s contacts with Russia “that we knew to be untrue.”

She declined to describe how DOJ learned that what Flynn was telling others in the administration was in fact untrue, saying that information was classified.

“We took him through a fair amount of detail about the underlying conduct what Gen. Flynn had done and then we walked through the various press accounts and how it had been falsely reported,” Yates said, calling Flynn’s “underlying conduct,” which she said was also classified, “problematic in and of itself.”

Yates said she also informed McGahn that the FBI interviewed Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, and declined to answer McGahn’s question about how he “did.”

“We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what Gen. Flynn had done and additionally that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what Gen. Flynn had done,” Yates testified.

“The Russians also knew that Gen. Flynn had misled the Vice President and others, because in the media accounts it was clear that they were repeating what Gen. Flynn had told them. And that this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this but that they likely had proof of this information,” she continued. “And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”

Yates testified that McGahn called her and the unnamed DOJ official into his White House office again on Jan. 27, where she said McGahn asked her if she thought Flynn should be fired.

The acting attorney general said she told McGahn it was not her position to say so, but that she brought the information to him so that the Trump administration could “take action.”

McGahn asked for access to the underlying evidence supporting their claims, according to Yates, who told him she’d would work with the FBI to determine what could be revealed over that weekend.

On Jan. 30, a Monday, Yates said she called McGahn granting him approval to review that underlying evidence. She was dismissed from her post hours later, after instructing the Justice Department not to defend President Donald Trump’s travel ban out of concern over its legality.

Flynn remained in his position until Feb. 13.

This post has been updated.

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With his job reportedly safe for the time being, White House staffer Sebastian Gorka on Sunday addressed the annual conference of the Jerusalem Post as part of an ongoing effort to improve his reputation in the Jewish community.

According to a report in the Atlantic, the self-styled counterterrorism expert was met with a friendly reception at the event, where he spent the bulk of his on-stage interview with editor Yaakov Katz discussing the threat posed by “radical Islam.”

Katz opened the conversation with a question about Gorka’s ties to a Hungarian knightly order founded by a Nazi collaborator, which have fueled rumors that the Trump White House planned to remove him from his post as deputy assistant to the President. But he did not push back when Gorka gave the same, indirect answer that he’d previously provided to other publications, according to the report.

“I have spent my life fighting against totalitarian ideologies and so did my father,” Gorka said, as quoted by the Atlantic, adding that no one has “ever found one sentence that I have said in the last 46 years that is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel.”

Allies of Gorka and the Trump administration have in recent weeks published a number of op-eds in conservative and Orthodox Jewish publications defending his reputation. Many, including fellow activists and lawyers Jeff Ballabon and Bruce Abramson, have argued that his critics are part of a liberal agenda to smear individuals like Gorka who take a forceful view towards “the jihadi threat to America.”

Abramson, who co-authored one op-ed with Ballabon for Jerusalem Post, told the Atlantic they were “contacted by some people who knew the president” tipping them off about the “slander” being published about Gorka.

In the face of lingering questions about his limited counterterrorism experience, links to Hungary’s far-right and a reported lack of a security clearance, Gorka remains in the White House.

The Daily Beast, which first reported that Gorka might be shifted into a role at a different federal agency, on Friday spoke to unnamed senior administration officials who said that Trump and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon personally intervened to save his job.

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Former President Barack Obama cautioned his successor not to hire Michael Flynn as national security adviser in a one-on-one sit-down in the Oval Office two days after the November election, NBC News reported Monday.

Three anonymous Obama administration officials who spoke to NBC confirmed that Obama, who fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, warned Trump against bringing him into this highly sensitive role.

CNN and the Associated Press published stories corroborating this reporting.

Flynn resigned in February after the Trump administration said that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about multiple meetings he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before inauguration. He is now one of several Trump campaign figures under investigation by Congress and the FBI for potentially coordinating with Russia as part of that country’s interference in the U.S. election.

One Trump White House official told NBC that Obama made it it clear he was “not a fan” of Flynn during their conversation, while another said it seemed like the former president’s comment about Flynn was meant as a joke.

News of Obama’s previously undisclosed warning came hours before former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who also reportedly warned the White House about Flynn’s ties to Russia, was scheduled to testify before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. CNN reported that Yates is expected to reveal she forcefully warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was lying about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, almost three weeks before Flynn was ousted.

Trump is trying to cast the career Justice Department prosecutor as a tool of the Obama administration, writing on Twitter Monday that Yates should be asked “under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.”

Trump also blamed the Obama administration for failing to properly vet Flynn, who registered as a foreign agent after leaving the White House.

“General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama administration, but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that,” Trump wrote in a second tweet.

Trump did not mention that Obama dismissed Flynn over concerns about his temperament and complaints from employees at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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Onetime Donald Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page on Sunday appeared to walk back his promise to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election in a bizarre nine-page missive.

In the letter to committee Chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice-Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), Page said he would testify in an open hearing but refused to commit to their request that he turn over all records of his communications with Russian officials and businessmen.

Taking a conspiratorial tone, he accused the senators of carrying out a “show trial” and charged that the Obama administration used “Big Brother methods” and “gangster tactics” in their efforts to uncover the extent of Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential race.

The Senate Intelligence Committee sent letters on April 28 to Page and several other former Trump campaign allies requesting records of their meetings, emails and phone calls with Russian operatives, as well as any business holdings there. Page first responded Thursday, saying that he was unfairly subjected to surveillance by Obama officials and that the evidence proving it would induce “severe vomiting” once the facts were made public, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

Sunday’s letter went even further. Page alleged that the Obama administration committed two “preliminary felonies” by leaking information about his ties to Russian officials. He charged that the Obama administration “unlawfully disclosed” his identity in a court filing documenting his 2013 meeting with a Russian spy, where he handed over documents related to the energy business. He also accused the Obama administration of illegally leaking classified information stemming from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant against him after he left the Trump campaign last summer.

Page called these alleged leaks “abuse” and said they contributed to his feeling that he should be able to come before the Senate and testify in open session, rather than do the “forced labor” of turning over all of the requested documents.

Burr and Warner have said they are open to issuing subpoenas if the Trump campaign associates do not comply.

In the letter, Page confirmed he has a legal team working with him to respond to the investigation. He’s already been remarkably eager to speak to the press for someone subject to both FBI and congressional investigation.

He also partially responded to the committee’s question about whether he had financial investments or real estate holdings in Russia, saying he divested shares of Russian oil company Gazprom in August and has no other stake in the country.

“Please please note that I purchased 200 American Depository Receipts of PJSC Gazprom in June 2008 for $5,909.00,” Page wrote, saying he divested his stake in August 2016 for $798.98, ending up with a net loss of $5,110.02.

He blamed the “complete disaster that the Clinton/Obama regime made of U.S.-Russia relations” for Gazprom’s tanking stock price during their tenure, which he said led to the loss.

Page’s outlandish letter also refers to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, known for encouraging extrajudicial killings of drug users in that country, as a “capable leader.”

Sorting out what Page calls the “civil rights abuses” committed by the Obama administration will help “essential allies” like Duterte “again feel safe in visiting the United States,” he writes.

Former deputy attorney general Sally Yates, on the other hand, is branded a “de facto anarchist” in Page’s letter. Yates is scheduled to testify about Russia’s election interference before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday.

Read Page’s full letter below, via the Daily Caller:

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The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested that a handful of former Trump campaign advisers turn over records of any communications with Russian government and business officials, the New York Times reported Friday.

Anonymous sources with knowledge of the Senate probe told the Times that longtime ally Roger Stone, former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn all received letters from the committee, which is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election to benefit Donald Trump.

Representatives for Manafort and Flynn did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Stone and Page, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, told the Times that they would comply with the request. Stone said he was “eager, indeed anxious” to testify before the committee in an open hearing, while Page said he would “help” but countered that the government already had collected his communications through a “completely unjustified FISA warrant.”

The newspaper previously reported that the Justice Department obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap Page’s communications after his departure from the Trump campaign last year, out of concern that he was working on Russia’s behalf.

In a joint statement, committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) urged Page to “live up to his publicly-expressed cooperation with our effort.”

Both have previously said they were willing to issue subpoenas if their requests were not met.

Flynn previously offered to testify before federal and congressional investigators about his ties to Russia on the condition that he is granted immunity. It doesn’t appear anyone has taken him up on that offer.

According to the Times, the Senate committee requested records of all meetings, emails, text messages and phone calls these individuals had with Russian officials or businessmen from June 16, 2015 to Jan. 20, 2017. It also asked for information about financial or real estate holdings the former Trump advisers may have that are linked to Russia.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are both investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, as is the FBI.

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