WASHINGTON — A highly anticipated open hearing in the House Intelligence Committee’s probe of Russia’s campaign influence operation — once canceled by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — is back on.
Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general fired by President Trump, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan were supposed to testify in March, but the hearing was called off after Nunes, without first notifying his committee, said he viewed documents at the White House indicating that Trump campaign officials had been swept up in FISA surveillance of foreign targets; he said in some cases their names were unmasked.
After revelations that Nunes had visited the White House the evening before his press conference announcing the news and subsequent trip to see President Trump to brief the commander in chief, the chairman, who served on Trump’s transition team, recused himself from the Russia investigation and handed the reins over to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas).
Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who branded the March hearing cancellation an “attempt to choke off public info,” said in recent days that he and Conaway were working well together and were coming to agreement on a witness list to proceed in the investigation.
Today, the committee announced that they will first bring in FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, inviting the pair to appear at a closed-door hearing on May 2.
Nunes said in March that the Yates, Brennan and Clapper hearing was called off to allow time for Comey and Rogers to come back in and answer more questions in closed session. But that meeting didn’t happen.
The committee further announced today that a second letter was sent to Yates, Brennan and Clapper “inviting them to appear at an open hearing to be scheduled after May 2nd.”
The Washington Post reported that the White House tried to keep Yates from testifying, publishing what appears to be a Justice Department official telling Yates’ lawyer in a March 24 letter that executive privilege would “likely” limit what she would be allowed to tell the committee.
Yates, who was fired by Trump for refusing to defend his executive order banning travel from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, reportedly warned the White House in late January that then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn had been communicating with the Russian government and could be a vulnerable blackmail target.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer called any assertion that “we stood in the way… 100 percent false.”
“I hope she testifies,” Spicer said. “I look forward to it … if they choose to move forward, great. We have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple.”