(CN) — A lawyer for former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates says the Trump administration squelched her testimony in a hearing about Russian meddling in the presidential election.
The assertion by attorney David O’Neil was first reported by The Washington Post, and was based on a series of letters regarding Yates’ planned appearance before a congressional committee.
The Associated Press later confirmed the authenticity of the letters.
Yates, the deputy attorney general during the final years of the Obama administration who was fired by President Trump is January for ordering Justice Department attorneys not to defend his first travel ban, was to speak to the House Intelligence Committee about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, potential links between Russia and the Trump campaign, and the U.S. government’s response to the Russian cyber-activities.
However, committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., abruptly canceled the hearing.
In the letter sent to the Justice Department last week, O’Neil says it was his understanding that the Justice Department was invoking “further constraints” on testimony she could provide at a House Intelligence Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
“Generally, we understand that the Department takes the position that all information Ms. Yates received or actions she took in her capacity as Deputy Attorney General and Acting Attorney General are client confidences that she may not disclose absent written consent from the Department,” the letter says.
“We believe that the Department’s position in this regard is overbroad, incorrect, and inconsistent with the Department’s historical approach to the congressional testimony of current and former senior officials,” O’Neil continued. “In particular, we believe that Ms. Yates should not be obligated to refuse to provide non-classified facts about the Department’s notification to the White House of concerns about the conduct of a senior official.”
(That official, unnamed in the letter, is former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.)
“Requiring Ms. Yates to refuse to provide such information is particularly untenable given that multiple senior administration officials have publicly described the same events,” the letter says.
The Justice Department responded to that letter on Friday.
In a letter to O’Neil, Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools says the potential testimony described by the attorney involved conversations Yates and another senior department official had with the office of the counsel to the president, and that “such communications are likely covered by the presidential communications privilege and possible the deliberative process privilege.”
“The president owns those privileges,” Schools says. “Therefore, to the extent MS. Yates needs consent to disclose the details of those communications … she needs to consult with the White House.”
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee said Yates had sought permission to testify from the White House, and that he hopes the cancelled hearing can be rescheduled without delay.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan also were to testify.
The White House called the original Washington Post story “entirely false.”