Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, under fire for her possible role in “unmasking” the names of President Donald Trump’s associates in U.S. intelligence reports, has refused to testify before a Senate committee investigating the matter.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on crime and terrorism, had wanted Rice to testify. In a letter obtained by CNN on Wednesday, Rice lawyer Kathryn Ruemmler cited objections from the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
“When he expanded on the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton … he was making a, you know, Red Sox Bill Bruckner [sic], massive, rookie error.”
“Senator Whitehouse has informed us by letter that he did not agree to Chairman Graham’s invitation to Ambassador Rice, a significant departure from the bipartisan invitations extended to other witnesses,” she wrote. “Under these circumstances, Ambassador Rice respectfully declines Senator Graham’s invitation to testify.”
Rice’s decision represents a dramatic reversal. She had vehemently denied doing anything improper in relation to intelligence report and had expressed an eagerness to testify.
Graham told CNN on Tuesday that he wanted Rice to testify in order to clarify reports about the so-called unmaking.
“I’d like to ask questions of her,” he said. “I have seen press reports — I don’t know how accurate — that she was involved in the unmasking of a U.S. citizen who was incidentally surveilled.”
Whitehouse told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that he objected to Rice’s testimony because it would not be relevant to the central issue of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“I think that it would have diverted from the thrust of the hearing for her to come there,” he said. “That was the reason that I was not part of the invitation. But I don’t want to assign motives to anyone else.”
Whithouse said the panel should focus on former assistant attorney general Sally Yates and James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama.
“We’re going to learn some very important stuff, I hope, and if down the road, we want to go other way, then we can go other ways,” he told Blitzer. “But I didn’t want this hearing stepped on by a different witness who does not contribute to those issues.”
Whitehouse told Blitzer that he has confidence in FBI Director James Comey, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about his decision in October to alert Congress that he was reopening the agency’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information. But he said Comey boxed himself into a corner by discussing the investigation in much greater detail than necessary when he announced that he would not recommend criminal charges.
“When he expanded on the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton and went off into the derogatory investigative information that he disclosed, he was making a, you know, Red Sox Bill Bruckner, massive, rookie error,” he said. “And he’s no rookie. So it was a dumb and unfortunate mistake.”
That was a flubbed reference to the most infamous error in Boston Red Sox history. Bill Buckner — not “Bruckner” — let a ground ball roll between his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He was not a rookie, either.
Whitehouse told CNN that Comey could have avoided the need to speak out in October if he had simply followed Justice Department policy during his original announcement that the investigation was over.
“That hearing should never have happened … That only happened because he did not follow the rules,” he said.