WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday rejected allegations that it sought to prevent former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying before Congress in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of ties between Russian agents and Trump campaign officials.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday the White House did not seek to block Yates’ testimony and denied that the White House had pressured the House Intelligence Committee to cancel her scheduled testimony.
“I hope she testifies. I look forward to it,” Spicer said during the White House briefing. “We have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple.”
The statement came after The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration sought to block Yates’ testimony before Congress, citing a Justice Department letter to Yates’ attorney that said Yates’ communications with the White House counsel “are likely covered by the presidential communications privilege.”
The letter was sent on the same day that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes canceled a previously scheduled hearing where Yates was scheduled to testify about ties between Trump advisers and Russian officials. Yates briefed Trump’s White House counsel on former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The White House Counsel’s office did not weigh in on the matter of Yates’ testimony, a White House official said.
“There is no letter from the White House because Yates attorney’s letter clearly states a non-response will be seen as the White House not asserting executive privilege,” the official said. “So our non-response clearly allows her to freely move forward with testifying.”
Yates’ attorney David O’Neil said in a letter Friday to White House Counsel Don McGahn that Yates would go forward with her testimony and “conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege” if he did not receive a response by Monday.
Spicer said the White House does not believe executive privilege should be an issue in Yates testifying, which is why McGahn did not respond.
Nunes spokesperson Jack Langer told CNN that neither Nunes nor any intelligence committee staffers spoke with the White House about Yates’ scheduled testimony.
“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 our own accord and we still intend to have her speak to us,” Langer said.
O’Neil, Yates’ attorney, declined to comment or provide the letter he sent to the White House Counsel’s office when contacted by CNN Tuesday.
Yates served as acting attorney general in the early days of the Trump administration until she was fired for refusing to implement President Donald Trump’s order barring travelers form seven Muslim-majority countries.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he was “aware that former AG Yates intended to speak on these matters and sought permission to testify from the White House.”
“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,” Schiff said in statement Tuesday morning. “But we would urge that the open hearing be rescheduled without further delay and that Ms. Yates be permitted to testify freely and openly.”
Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican on the committee, defended Nunes’ decision to postpone the hearing on Tuesday, saying that Nunes needed to hear from FBI Director James Comey in a classified setting before he could hear from Yates publicly.
“That came well before any of this controversy,” Turner told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront.” “She will voluntarily come. We asked her to. It was the Chairman’s request she be there. The White House isn’t stopping her.”