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Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified Wednesday that she believes there was a "legitimate basis" for the FBI to interview then-national security adviser Michael Flynn in January 2017 as part of a counterintelligence investigation into Russian election interference.

Why it matters: The Justice Department under Attorney General Bill Barr is attempting to dismiss the case against Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, on the grounds that there was no basis for the FBI to interview him in the first place.

The big picture: The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, in addition to the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a special prosecutor at the Justice Department, is conducting a review of the origins of the Russia investigation.

  • Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has alleged misconduct in the Russia investigation, claiming it was politically motivated and that the FBI was seeking to prosecute Flynn under a 200-year-old law called the Logan Act that prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.
  • Yates testified that a potential Logan Act violation was not the basis for the Flynn interview, and that FBI agents were attempting to find out why Flynn was "neutering American policy" related to Russia sanctions imposed in response to 2016 election interference.

What she's saying: "That is a very curious thing to be doing, particularly when the Russians had been acting to benefit President Trump. And then he is covering it up, he's lying about it," Yates testified.

  • "So the agents understandably needed to understand what the relationship was here between General Flynn and the Russians and to try to find out from him who else might have been involved in this."
  • "Had General Flynn been honest when the agents came to him and admitted what he said, the agents would have found out what the Mueller investigation discovered later. And that is that General Flynn was not acting on his own and that these were not conversations off the top of his head."

Worth noting: Yates also testified that during a Jan. 5, 2017 Oval Office meeting in which top officials discussed Flynn's Russian contacts, President Obama, Vice President Biden and national security adviser Susan Rice "did not in any way attempt to direct or influence any kind of investigation."

  • "Something like that would have set off alarms for me," Yates added. "The president was focused entirely on the national security implications of sharing sensitive intelligence information with General Flynn during the transition."

Go deeper

FBI Agents Association: Don't fire Director Christopher Wray

FBI Director Christopher Wray is sworn in prior to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 18, 2018. Photo by Win McNamee via Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray should remain in charge of the Bureau, members of the FBI Agents Association (FBIAA) wrote to President Trump and Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Why it matters: If re-elected, the president plans to immediately oust Wray. Trump has been vexed with his second FBI director and would’ve already fired him if he didn’t have to deal with the complications of acting before Nov. 3, one official previously told Axios.

Journalism enters dangerous new era

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Capitol attack on Jan. 6 resulted in at least nine physical assaults against journalists and at least five arrests, per the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker's top editor.

Why it matters: President Trump's harsh rhetoric towards the press has empowered leaders abroad and locally in the U.S. to continue to attack press that they don't like.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The beginning of the beginning for Biden's climate push

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Joe Biden's inauguration and the days right after will bring a rat-tat-tat burst of climate policy moves, but keep this in mind amid the splashy pledges: pushing through most of his agenda will be a long, uncertain slog.

Why it matters: Biden's climate plan is far more expansive than anything contemplated under President Obama. But for all the immediate pledges, it will take years to see how far Biden gets.