KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
We start this hour with a hearing that didn't happen. The House Intelligence Committee was supposed to assemble today to hear testimony on possible ties between President Trump's aides and Russia. The committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, cancelled it. And Adam Schiff, the top ranking Democrat on the committee, thinks he knows why.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
ADAM SCHIFF: I think that Sally Yates has a big role to play in why this hearing was canceled.
MCEVERS: Sally Yates was the acting attorney general until President Trump fired her back in January. That was after she said she would refuse to defend his executive order on immigration and travel. Yates was supposed to testify before that committee today.
And here to walk us through the Russia investigation is NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Hi there.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So before we get to Sally Yates, let's just set the stage a little. That piece of tape we heard was from Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, and it's from this morning actually at NPR. He came in to talk with reporters there in Washington, right?
KELLY: He did. I invited him to the newsroom to brief us since he's at the center of this storm over the Russia investigations. For the record, we have also invited his Republican counterpart, Devin Nunes. We hope that Congressman Nunes will take us up on it in the coming days.
But Schiff accepted, and we were able to set it up pretty fast because this hole suddenly appeared on his schedule when the hearing you just mentioned this morning was canceled. So we sat, lobbing questions at him here in the NPR newsroom at precisely the hour that Sally Yates and others were slated to testify.
MCEVERS: All right, so what's the alleged connection here? What would Sally Yates have to do with this hearing being canceled?
KELLY: What Schiff is suggesting is that pressure from the White House might have led to this hearing being canceled, and that pressure might have come because of questions about Michael Flynn - lots of names to keep track here, so let me try to walk through this as simply as I can.
Back in January, our listeners will recall - lo, back in the early days of the administration, you had over at the Justice Department Sally Yates running things as acting attorney general. You had over at the White House Michael Flynn running the National Security Council as Trump's national security adviser until Trump fired both of them. But Yates would have played a key role in investigating Flynn's ties to Russia.
And what today was about - today presented the prospect of Sally Yates being questioned in public about what she knew. And that is a prospect Adam Schiff thinks the White House would have wanted to avoid. So here's what he told us today.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
SCHIFF: It wouldn't surprise me at all if there was a vigorous pushback on having her testify. Among other things, how long did the president know that Michael Flynn had lied before he was willing to do anything about it?
MCEVERS: OK, so that's what the top Democrat on the committee says. What does the White House say about this?
KELLY: The White House is categorically denying it. White House Spokesman Sean Spicer says he hopes she testifies and says the White House had absolutely nothing to do with Nunes calling off the hearing.
MCEVERS: And presumably the person who would know why Nunes called off the hearing is Nunes. What is he saying?
KELLY: He says he didn't cancel it, that he just postponed it, that it will happen down the line. But this gets, Kelly, to the big why all of this matters question. Congress, as we said, is investigating Russia's efforts to interfere in last year's election. Devin Nunes is leading that investigation on the House side. Nunes was a member of Trump's transition team. He was under fire for being too close to Trump, and that has led Democrats such as Schiff and others to say he can't run an impartial investigation; he has to step aside.
So this is a big question that reporters have been putting to Nunes. We heard this play out today on Capitol Hill. Nunes said, I'm not stepping aside; why would I? So it's very clear he is not planning to recuse himself.
MCEVERS: And just briefly, there's a parallel investigation playing out on the Senate side. Is that going any more smoothly?
KELLY: So far yes. They are holding a public hearing on Thursday that will be open to the public in the spirit of bipartisanship that clearly is not moving the House side at this point. The two leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they will hold a joint press conference, and that will happen tomorrow.
MCEVERS: NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, thank you.
KELLY: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.