Two former Obama officials are testifying before a Senate subcommittee on Monday about Russian election meddling and Trump associates' contacts with the Kremlin.
More specifically, they're expected to discuss who knew what — and when they knew it, and how.
Senators are questioning Sally Yates, former acting U.S. attorney general, and James Clapper, former director of national intelligence. After President Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20, Yates remained in her role for a short time — just ten days — before Trump fired her for refusing to defend his travel ban.
Their questions are centering largely on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after it was revealed he had contacts with Russia that he had publicly denied. The White House said that Flynn had misled members of the administration, including the vice president, about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador.
The witnesses have been called before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Crime and Terrorism subcommittee, chaired by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, to discuss Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
We'll be posting updates below as the hearing proceeds.
4:15 p.m. ET: Yates repeats her goal was to allow White House to "take action."
In her answers to the senators, Yates has repeatedly emphasized that she was briefing White House lawyers on Flynn's behavior so that the administration "could take action."
She says the Department of Justice was "very concerned" and that in conversations with the White House, she emphasized "repeatedly" that they were sharing the information to enable the administration to act.
3:55 p.m. ET: Conversation pivots to Trump's travel ban, Clinton's emails
In a diversion from the topic at hand, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) challenged Yates over her decision not to defend Trump's travel ban.
That prompted Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to defend Yates — and then express frustration with the Senate subcommittee's lack of resources dedicated to the question at the heart of the hearing, that is, Russian meddling in the election.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) then asked "hypothetical" questions about Hillary Clinton's emails, as well as further questions about President Trump's executive order on travel.
As the conversations about the travel ban continue, Yates confirms that she met with White House counsel — to discuss Flynn — on the same afternoon that the White House was preparing to issue the executive order on immigration.
They did not tell her of the plans, she says: as acting attorney general she learned about the order after it issued, from media coverage.
3:45 p.m. ET: Yates says it 'certainly appeared' that Flynn lied
Yates told the senators the Department of Justice had two concerns over Flynn's actions. One was that he could be vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.
"Compromise was certainly the No. 1 concern," she said. "The Russians can use compromised material in a variety of ways, sometimes overtly, sometime subtly, and again our concern was that you have a very sensitive position-- like the national security adviser — and you don't want that person to be in a position where the Russians have leverage."
But they also felt that Vice President Pence had the "right to know" that evidence contradicted the statements he was making, as he defended Flynn in public.
Asked if Flynn lied to Pence, Yates said, "That's certainly how it appeared, yes — because the vice president went out and made statements that he said were based on what Gen. Flynn had told him," and which the DOJ knew "flatly" weren't true, Yates said.
3:15 p.m. ET: Yates says she told the White House multiple times that Flynn's conduct was "problematic"
Yates says she spoke with White House counsel twice in person, and once over the phone, about Flynn's "conduct."
She wouldn't detail what the conduct was, saying that was classified, but identified it as "problematic in and of itself."
The first meeting was on Jan. 26, when Yates told the White House that they had evidence about Flynn's conduct that contradicted public statements by Vice President Pence. Yates says she was not accusing Pence of "providing false information," but wanted to make sure the White House was aware of the disparity.
Yates also says she informed the White House that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI, but without specifying what happened in that interview.
It was a matter of urgency, Yates said.
"We believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians," Yates said. "... To state the obvious, you don't want your national security adviser compromised by the Russians."
But she says the Department of Justice, despite feeling this sense of urgency, was also trying not to interfere in an active FBI investigation.
Flynn was forced to resign as national security adviser 18 days after Yates met with White House lawyers.
3:10 p.m. ET: Clapper, Yates both say they don't know how Flynn's conversations reached the press
Graham asked Yates and Clapper how the White House learned that Flynn had conversations with the Russian ambassador.
That's a question that President Trump had called for the senators to ask — in line with Republican allegations that an Obama official leaked classified information about Flynn.
Both witnesses said they did not know the answer. Later, both denied serving as an anonymous source, or authorizing anyone else to serve as a anonymous source, in connection to the story.
3:10 p.m. ET: Yates says she can't comment on possibility of Trump campaign collusion
Yates refused to say whether intelligence exists that shows a member of the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
"My answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information," Yates said.
But she urged the senators not to take that non-answer as confirmation that evidence does exist, saying she was taking the same approach as FBI Director James Comey to a question that centers on a classified investigation.
Clapper had a different answer to the question, saying flatly that he did not know of any evidence.
Further pressing by the senators raised the point that it was at least possible for individuals with the Department of Justice to have access to information that Clapper, as director of national intelligence, did not — because of the high level of secrecy around counterintelligence investigations.
2:55 p.m. ET: Clapper pushes back on concerns over unmasking
Graham, in his opening remarks, raised unmasking as a major area of concern.
"Unmasking" is how American officials can learn the names of Americans caught up in "incidental collection" — that is, people overheard or mentioned as the U.S. is surveilling a foreign target. (You can read more about both concepts in our background material above.)
Some Republicans have expressed concern that Flynn may have been "unmasked," and then his identity leaked to the press, for political purposes instead of for legitimate intelligence reasons.
"I've learned a bit about unmasking and what I've learned is disturbing," Graham said. "I'd like to know more and I want to make sure that that unmasking can never be used as a political weapon in our democracy."
Clapper explained that an official asking for unmasking has to justify why they need the name, and that the name is only shared with the person requesting it. Clapper said he had personally requested unmasking several times.
"At no time did I ever submit a request for personal or political purposes, or to voyeuristically look at raw intelligence, nor am I aware of any instance of such abuse by anyone else," Clapper wrote.
2:45 p.m. ET: Witnesses warn that their testimony is constrained
As he opened the hearing, Graham noted that the U.S. intelligence community has been "unanimous" in concluding that Russia was meddling the U.S. election.
While Russian hacking and propaganda was designed to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, Graham said, such foreign interference is a bipartisan issue.
"It could be our campaigns next," he told his fellow senators. "When one party is attacked, all of us should feel an attack."
The subcommittee's ranking member, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), went into much greater detail about what Russia is known or believed to have done to influence the U.S. election.
"We need a more thorough accounting of the facts," Whitehouse said.
Meanwhile Yates and Clapper both warned the subcommittee that they won't be able to answer pressing questions as fully as the senators might like.
"Many of the topics of interest today concern classified information that I cannot address in this public setting, either directly or indirectly," Yates wrote in her statement, published on Graham's website.
She also said she's "not authorized" to discuss deliberations within the Department of Justice or the executive branch, "particularly on matters that may be the subject of ongoing investigations."
Clapper, for his part, said the White House cited executive privilege and "requested" additional limits to what he can discuss in the hearing.
2:30 p.m. ET:
NPR's Phil Ewing provides a preview of what's expected to be discussed:
"Democrats want Yates to describe what she told White House officials shortly after President Trump's inauguration about the FBI's investigation into then-national security adviser Mike Flynn. Yates' Jan. 26 meeting in the executive mansion reportedly was to notify the administration that the FBI believed Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. He resigned weeks later. ...
"Graham and Republicans, however, want to ask the witnesses about how details of Flynn's conversations, and other classified information, found their way into The Washington Post and other newspapers ahead of Trump's inauguration."
Trump had been cautioned about Flynn even before the heads-up from Yates on Jan. 26, according to a former Obama official. The official tells NPR that the president himself warned Trump, then incoming president, about Flynn's job performance.
Flynn was formerly the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, but was fired during the Obama administration.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed on Monday that "President Obama made it clear that he was not a fan of Gen. Flynn's." But Spicer suggested that wasn't surprising — given Flynn's criticisms of Obama — and could have been interpreted as "bad blood" instead of a substantive warning.
"If President Obama was truly concerned, why didn't he suspend Gen. Flynn's security clearance?" Spicer asked.