WASHINGTON – Former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, on Wednesday declined an invitation to testify at an upcoming Senate hearing on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Rice’s lawyer notified the senators chairing the hearing of her decision not to attend in a letter. Two other former Obama administration officials are scheduled to testify before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday. The subcommittee is one of three congressional panels investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Rice’s refusal to testify is the latest twist in the congressional investigations into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign and the ongoing debate over whether the probes are truly independent and bipartisan. Rice was invited to testify only by the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, and not by the top Democrat on the panel, her lawyer said.
CNN first reported Rice’s decision.
Rice became a central part of the Russia investigation when President Donald Trump said she may have committed a crime when she asked intelligence analysts to disclose the name of a Trump associate mentioned in an intelligence report. Rice has said she did nothing improper. But she has become a key former Obama administration official in a position to answer questions from lawmakers.
Rice’s attorney, Kathryn Ruemmler, said Rice is supportive of the committee’s investigation, but it is rare for Congress to ask for testimony from a former president’s national security adviser. The request for Rice’s testimony also stood out, Ruemmler wrote in the letter, because it came after the hearing was announced and well after the other two witnesses — former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former national intelligence Director James Clapper — had agreed to appear. But unlike invitations extended to Yates and Clapper, Rice was invited to testify solely by subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., not jointly with the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Ruemmler said.
Ruemmler said in the letter that Whitehouse notified Rice in writing that he did not agree with Graham’s invitation, which Ruemmler described as a “significant departure from the bipartisan invitations extended to other witnesses.”
Graham released a statement that noted Rice’s decision and questioned her comments on the situation.
“During a press interview, she denied improperly unmasking the names of American citizens who were surveilled as part of incidental collection. Media reports suggest otherwise,” Graham said. “At an appropriate time, I expect we will continue down this path. I hope Ms. Rice will come before the committee — and not just the press.”
A spokesperson for Whitehouse did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Yates’ and Clapper’s upcoming public testimony is much-anticipated, as they were both scheduled to speak before the House intelligence committee in March. But that hearing was cancelled, some Democrats believe, because the White House wanted to limit what Yates could say. The House intelligence committee has yet to reschedule the public hearing.
Yates is expected to give senators details about her Jan. 26 conversation with the White House counsel about Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. She is expected to say that she saw discrepancies between the administration’s public statements about Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and what really transpired, a person familiar with that discussion and knowledge of Yates’ upcoming testimony told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity ahead the hearing.
Yates is expected to say that she told White House counsel Don McGahn that she was concerned Flynn’s communications with the Russian ambassador could leave Flynn in a compromised position as a result of the contradictions between the public depictions of the calls and what intelligence officials knew to be true, the person said. White House officials have said publicly that Yates merely wanted to give them a “heads-up” about Flynn’s Russian contacts, but Yates is likely to testify that she approached the White House with alarm, according to the person. The White House has said Flynn was later fired because of misleading the vice-president on the content of Flynn’s discussions with the ambassador.