I can't say we learned anything new from the Senate hearing yesterday given that both Sally Yates and James Clapper were limited to what they could say in public. However, what was said was damning at least in regard to Ret. Gen. Mike Flynn. Not only was he presented as a severely compromised national security adviser but that many of his actions are punishable in a court of law, carrying sentences of two to five years each.
Democratic senators tried to get as much as they could out of Clapper and Yates without compromising the ongoing investigation, while Republican senators went out of their way to discredit Sally Yates. This was particularly apparent in the lines of questioning from Sens. Ted Cruz and John Neely Kennedy, who focused almost exclusively on former Attorney General Yates' refusal to defend Trump's initial travel ban.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, take a less combative approach, preferring to stick with the the depth of the Russian hacking, rather than try to discredit Yates or Clapper. Sasse comes in at the 35:10 minute mark. His questions were to the point and he gave them both time to answer.
Unfortunately, Patrick Leahy is cut off in the above video, but he had the question of the day when he asked Clapper, if Trump may be helping Russians by continuing to deny their involvement in the hacking. Clapper said yes.
The big question now is how much Trump is aware of what is going on around him or if various persons in his administration have formed a cabal, controlling information that comes into the White House? Yates claimed she had made WH lawyer Donald McGahn fully aware of how badly Flynn was compromised, but this information either stopped there, or others chose to brush it under the table or Trump saw Flynn as loyal to him and was willing to look the other way. None of which speaks well for this administration, as Flynn lingered on in office for another 18 days before finally being fired.
The White House continues to try to pawn him off on the Obama administration, saying there had been no need to vet him. Yet, as former White House officials have noted, Trump was warned during the transition period that Flynn was a loose cannon. Trump himself continues to praise Flynn, which seems in sharp contrast to Spicey's latest press briefing.
All this makes for a very murky picture that we don't have much access to give that so much of the information remains classified. Enough has leaked out to make one question the White House, much to the Republicans' chagrin, as they seemed more concerned about this than what those leaks implied. The most amusing moment came when Sen. Kennedy tried to implicate Clapper and Yates in the leaks. Kennedy lumped classified and non-classified information together, to which Clapper replied that divulging non-classified information is not leaking.
This is a far cry from the time Republicans were all cheering wikileaks for disclosing the DNC's hacked e-mails. As Sen. Leahy and other Democrats pointed out, what is good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.
An independent investigation is now more necessary than ever to cut through the partisan feelings, which Ben Sasse noted. He seemed to be one of the few Senators more concerned with the long term implications of this breach rather than seeing it as a political football, as most of the others did. Sen. Franken used his period to mount his high horse and launch broad accusations at the White House without really asking Clapper or Yates any questions.
For his part, Clapper said that hacking like this is a low budget weapon that can provide huge returns. The information Russia or any other country gathers through such breaches can be used to seriously compromise government officials. A practice long used during the Soviet era, to which Sen. Kennedy made pointed references to the 1968 and 1984 elections, as if Republicans had also been victims of such political intrigue. Clapper wisely said he couldn't comment on such incidents.
Both Yates and Clapper comported themselves well, refusing to give in to the partisanship expressed by most of the senators. Why Trump chose to threaten Yates through his tweets is beyond me, as there wasn't much she could really say in public to hurt him. All he succeeded in doing is calling more attention to the hearing, in which Yates more than held her own against his Republican surrogates.