Just seven days into her new job and into her boss’s presidency, acting Attorney General Sally Yates raised profound concerns about the actions of President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn—concerns the new Trump administration chose to ignore until they were made public by The Washington Post.
Yates testified on Monday that she notified the White House Counsel, veteran Washington lawyer Donald F. McGahn II, on January 26 that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others. She also relayed to the White House that she and the DOJ were concerned about Flynn’s “underlying conduct,” or in other words, not just Flynn’s lies but the actions he was lying about.
Remember, Pence took charge of Trump’s transition team in mid November, replacing Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who briefly led the team and who, it should be noted, did not believe that Flynn was at all qualified to be national security adviser.
Yates told the White House that the Russians knew what Flynn had done and that he had misled Vice President Pence and other high-ranking officials and was, therefore, susceptible to blackmail by Putin.
A 27-year career prosecutor, Yates did not, as the White House has repeatedly insisted, simply visit the White House to give them with a “heads up.” It’s clear from her testimony that her warning to the Trump administration was substantive and demanded action. “To state the obvious, you don’t want your National Security Adviser compromised with the Russians,” Yates told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Monday.
Yates, in fact, met with McGahn in person not once, but twice, in two days—in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the White House—to clarify to McGahn, with classified materials, the particular gravity of the situation and Flynn’s “problematic” conduct.
The White House Counsel asked Yates why the DOJ would be concerned about one White House official lying to another.
We also learned today that former President Obama explicitly warned Trump not to hire Flynn months before Trump eventually hired him.
And yet, President Trump waited a total of 18 days to fire Flynn after learning that he’d lied to Vice President Pence about his Russian contacts and compromised status. Instead, as we now know, the President chose to fire the acting Attorney General after she informed the White House about a major national security risk—Flynn’s felonious behavior and compromised status.
Trump, of course, when faced with the truth about Flynn and the White House coverup that followed, couldn’t help but troll the hearings on Twitter, lying about AG Yates and misquoting DNI Director James Clapper’s remarks—remarks we all heard on television. A full transcript of the hearing is also readily available in print. Clapper actually warned the subcommittee:
He also said that he hoped that Americans recognized the severity of the threat posed by Russia and that “we collectively counter it before it further erodes the fabric of our democracy.”
“If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it,” Clapper told subcommittee members.
Clapper also testified that he was unaware of the investigation into the Trump campaign until FBI Director James Comey acknowledged it when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, explaining that he typically deferred to the FBI director “on whether, when and to what extent” the agency would inform him about any counterintelligence investigations due to the FBI’s unique position as both an intelligence and law enforcement agency.
The title of Monday’s hearing, of course, was “Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election” but some Republican senators, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) couldn’t help but politicize the hearing, questioning the leaks to the press that led to Flynn’s firing as well as Yates’ refusal to defend Trump’s travel ban in court rather than zeroing in on the facts of the case at hand: Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the role the Trump campaign played in that attack on American democracy.
– Danielle Bizzarro