Recap of Sally Yates Senate Testimony

Ciro and I watched all of the Yates hearing live, because we have an idiosyncratic interpretation of “good time.” Things that stood out to me:

• Not to diminish Yates’s lovely takedown of Ted Cruz, but if that’s all you’ve seen, know that it’s not a good representation of the hearing, which was extremely friendly and collegial. Everybody in that room thought Ted Cruz was being tedious and was relieved to see him stopped.

Also, the more annoying thing Ted Cruz asked about was a convoluted theoretical situation meant to imply (without naming Huma Abedin) that Huma Abedin forwarded thousands of confidential e-mails, which she never did. Nobody in that room likes you, Ted Cruz. Nobody.

• Ted Cruz aside, there was refreshingly little showboating. If you’ve watched a lot of congressional panels, you know that congresspeople often spend their five minutes (or whatever) not asking questions, but making campaign ads thinly disguised as questions. That wasn’t going on here. People were asking questions, and not just point-scoring questions, but things they wanted to know answers to.

• Yates and Clapper weren’t able to say very much because of either classification or “it’s an ongoing investigation” – or because neither of them were there past January. This frustrated all the Senators, although they weren’t mad at Yates and Clapper. This is bipartisan annoyance, because if there’s anything really dangerous, the American people need to know about it, and if there isn’t, the cloud of suspicion is damaging and hamstrings the administration (much like the Hillary e-mail scandal, hence eyrolling when it’s brought up). Senators made requests for classified briefings.

• Yates was asked whether it would be a good idea to appoint a special prosecutor, but she said she trusts the Justice Department to be able to handle it through normal channels.

• Lindsey Graham was openly annoyed with people’s unwillingness to say straight out what we all know happened. By analogy: Imagine I’ve rolled a six-sided die and tell you I can’t say what number I’ve rolled, but it’s not one, two, four, five, or six. You say “so it’s a three” and I say “no, I can’t tell you that.” Lots of that happening. It annoys Lindsey Graham. You see it most clearly in his closing statement.

• Ben Sasse asked a good question about how we protect journalists who need to be able to reveal information, even as we say that the wikileaks dumps were (he and Clapper agree) damaging and maybe criminal. It was nice to see somebody say openly “I’d like to go after Assange, and I hate that guy, but also worry that going after Assange would chill good journalism.”

Clapper did not have a good answer (in fact had a bad answer) but that’s not important because Clapper is not a senator and Sasse is. Keep working on this one, Ben Sasse. Glad you have America’s back.

(Incidentally, this question from Ben Sasse somewhat cut the legs out from under anybody who wanted to get obsessed about going on a “leaks” witchhunt. Made them seem foolish and unAmerican.)

• On that note, the person who came off as the most dumb was not Ted Cruz, but Louisiana Republican John Kennedy (not to be confused with other John Kennedies), who obviously thought he was being a sly attack dog but just came off as embarassing and was literally laughed at by everyone. Multiple times (multiple times!) he asked whether Yates or Clapper had leaked classified or unclassified information, the latter of which everyone pointed out is not leaking.

If you want to see a portrait of somebody who should NOT be making important decisions, look up Kennedy’s performance yesterday. Geeze Louise. He also kept trying to attack Yates for not defending the travel ban by implying that nobody can ever know whether anything is unconstitutional. It was like “magnets, how do they work?” except ICP (who I have some affection for) weren’t implying that there’s no such thing as laws.

The “who are you to say what’s unconstitutional” stuff was not only pretty gross, but was of a piece with A.G. Sessions’ “judge sitting on an island in the Pacific.” So much for revering (1) small government close to the people (2) strict interpretation of the constitution.

• By the way, there were side swipes at Sessions. Maybe even some chagrin that his appointment was approved?

• Senator Whitehouse’s opening statement was good. In general, the Dems were pros who stayed in their lanes. Like I said, there wasn’t a lot of showboating, and for most of the panel, it felt like congress working together to try to investigate a problem, rather than a proxy fight between Dems and Republicans – which is impressive since this is a high-stakes investigation of a Republican administration. I feel like credit goes to Graham and Whitehouse (the panel heads) for setting that tone.

• Not a lot of new stuff revealed; mostly confirmation of what we already know. That’s about what I expected. I thought the main point of this hearing was to send a message to the administration, the intelligence community, to Russia, and to the American people that this is a continuing probe; that it’s not a conspiracy theory to say there was Russian interference; and that we’ll be vigilant about it. It said the Russia investigation is not just a political football that’s going to get dropped once it’s not expedient, or going to get lost as attention turns to healthcare. For me, that was important.

Erin says:  I watched the whole thing too! In addition to Cruz, I thought Kennedy and Cornyn were also terrible. condescending, and looking to punish Yates publicly in gross ways for points.

Romie: I admit the possibility that I tuned out Cornyn’s awfulness because as a Texan I have seen him be so awful and so stupid so many times that this seemed like best behavior.

Kathleen: So, we know every senator in D.C. detests Cruz, including probably John Cornyn, who at least has that nice head of white hair going for him. So, why oh why do the people of Texas like him so much? (Except of course for me and anyone I want to hang out with).

Romie: There isn’t a TON of state-level polling, but Ted Cruz is not very popular in Texas anymore. His approval rating has been underwater since the start of 2016. In a February UT/Tribune poll, even among people who self-identify as “strong Republican,” only 49% “strongly approve” of the job he’s doing. There’s (probably overly optimistic, but not for nothing) chatter that he’ll be vulnerable to a challenge in 2018 and Dems could flip the seat.