Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified Monday before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham. I got to watch a good bit of it live on CSPAN. I have never seen a more impressive witness at a congressional hearing, nor for that matter a better conducted hearing. If only our government would take this as a model for bipartisan, fact-based inquiry.
A career prosecutor, Yates became Acting AG after AG Loretta Lynch resigned with the end of the Obama administration. Her testimony was primarily about her role in informing the Trump administration about National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's duplicity with regard to Russia.
She was the consummate professional, her answers were concise, factual, and crystal clear. Yet she also came across as warmly personal, even when she demolished Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who chided her for refusing to defend the president's Executive Order on immigration bans. And also when she out-lawyered Sen. Ted Cruz by citing a later statute that trumped the one he quoted.
Yates, calmly and politely reminded Sen. Cornyn of the exchange he and she had had in her confirmation hearings, when he had asked her what she would do if the president asked her to defend a bill that was illegal. She reminded him that she had said, then, that she would say No. And that's what she did on this. Mercifully, for him, Cornyn's question time was up and he had nothing further to say.
She told the committee about learning from the FBI of Flynn's meetings with the Russian ambassador in which he discussed U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia in retaliation for interfering in our election.
Yates had realized that Flynn had lied, at least to the Vice President, who then misinformed the American people in assuring them that Flynn had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. Because the Russians would now know that Flynn had lied, it made him vulnerable to blackmail by them -- a severe liability to anyone in a highly sensitive national security position. So Yates went to share this with the White House legal counsel, tried to impress on him the seriousness of this so that they could "take action," as she put it. I'll let the timetable tell the rest of the story:
2014 Flynn dismissed by Obama as intelligence chief
2015 Flynn appears in Moscow sitting with Putin
11/10/16 Obama warns Trump not to hire Flynn for NSA
01/20/17 Trump's inauguration
01/20/17 Deputy AG Sally Yates became Acting Attorney
01/24/17 Flynn interviewed by FBI re Russian contacts.
Presumably they already had him on tape
with the Russian ambassador. If he lied to
the FBI, that is a felony.
01/26/17 Yates informs McGahn that Flynn could be
vulnerable to blackmail by Russians because
they knew he lied about his connections
01/27/17 Second meeting with McGahn at his request.
He asked to see the evidence and had other
questions. Yates would see to setting up a
way for him to view evidence.
01/30/17 Yates called McGahn to arrange for him to
01/30/17 That night, Yates fired by Trump, ostensibly
because she refused to defend his
immigration ban. She has no knowledge
whether McGahn ever saw the evidence,
because she no longer worked there.
02/13/17 Washington Post reports story, based on leaks.
Trump team defends Flynn.
02/14/17 Flynn forced to resign (18 days after Yates
told WH that he was compromised and
thus subject to blackmail; but only one day
after it became public.
Get the picture? Trump was repeatedly warned about Flynn but did nothing until the story was leaked and reported in the press, 18 days after Yates' visit. Public exposure forced action, finally. But Trump, even then, insisted that Flynn had done nothing wrong -- except lie to the Vice President.
Meanwhile, Trump has acted like Flynn was the victim of leaks, although as the case has become more and more obvious -- and hazardous to him -- he has begun to blame Flynn -- and Obama, of course. Why didn't Obama revoke his security clearance when he fired him in 2014? Never mind that to be National Security Director, Flynn should have gone through another, far more rigorous security check by the Trump administration. Apparently either they didn't do it, or failed to pay attention to Flynn's disturbing foreign connections.
I can think of two explanations to answer questions raised by this testimony: (1) Flynn was actually a Russian agent, or at least what they call "an asset," meaning that he was already compromised and was acting in Russia's interest and against the U.S.'s interests; or (2) Trump and his inner circle already knew what Flynn was doing and approved, i.e.,telling the Russians that Trump would lift the sanctions after he took office. Either one is a very serious charge, one for Flynn, the other for Trump himself.