In recent days, the Senate Judiciary Committee hosted former Justice Department official Sally Yates for testimony. Her appearance — which was conducted via videoconference — was part of the Republican-led panel’s investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, which is just the latest front in the ongoing Republican effort to harass the president’s political adversaries. The hearing featuring Yates didn’t go great for Republicans — she refuted a slew of their talking points, including the absurd claim from Donald Trump himself that the Obama administration “spied” on his campaign and committed treason.
In short — no, the Obama administration did not spy on the Trump campaign, and no, no one in the Obama administration committed treason. During her testimony, Yates pointed out the very simple fact that when Carter Page was put under surveillance, he wasn’t even associated with the Trump campaign anymore, although the surveillance of Carter Page has repeatedly been trotted out by the president and his allies as evidence of some kind of investigative misconduct targeting the Trump team. It’s staggering that such a simple fact — Page wasn’t even associated with the Trump campaign at the time he was put under surveillance — could undercut so much of the Trump team’s arguments. The arguments have always been hollow.
Furthermore, the investigation that ensnared Page in the first place was not some kind of political ploy against the Trump campaign. It was an investigation launched in direct response to evidence of Russian meddling in the United States. Yates explained how the same goes for the investigation that drew in Trump’s now former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who at one point pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a then-Russian Ambassador to the United States. Discussing the FBI’s interview of Flynn, Yates “argued… that it had been justified as a means to better understand what law enforcement officials viewed as a possible counterintelligence threat, especially in the context of an open investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia,” The New York Times explained.
‘General Flynn had essentially neutered the U.S. government’s message of deterrence. Far from rebuking the Russians for their attack on our country, General Flynn was conciliatory.’
Specifically, Flynn had tried to reassure the then-Russian Ambassador that the then-incoming Trump administration wouldn’t be as tough on Russia as their predecessors, the Obama administration, who had just imposed sanctions in response to Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
As journalist Joe Conason summarized, Yates outlined how “the Justice Department was conducting a counterintelligence operation that targeted Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak,” and that “was how the FBI discovered and recorded Flynn’s perfidious contacts with the Kremlin.”
Some on Trump’s side have made a big deal out of the supposed “unmasking” of Flynn’s identity in the records of Kisylak’s communications — although, as Axios notes, “according to the Washington Post, Flynn’s name wasn’t actually even masked on FBI documents related to the call.” Either way, by definition, those doing “unmasking” — which is a routine process — wouldn’t have known whose identity had been concealed when seeking the information. The Trump team’s arguments remain hollow.