A day after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to the Senate that she warned the Trump administration that in January that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by Russia, the White House attempted to cast Yates as a “political opponent of the president.”
Yates told the Senate subcommittee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election on Monday that she informed White House counsel Donald McGahn on Jan. 26 that she believed Flynn had been “compromised.”
Yates, a career federal prosecutor who has worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, was fired by Trump in late January after refusing to comply with his controversial travel ban executive order. Courts later blocked both that order and a revised version.
“This is not exactly someone that was excited about President Trump taking office or his agenda,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday.
The White House has said Trump was subsequently briefed about Yates’ warning but decided to keep Flynn on until his resignation on Feb. 13 — three days after the Washington Post revealed that Flynn had discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition. The White House says Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about those discussions, resulting in Pence falsely saying on television that Flynn hadn’t talked about the sanctions with the Russian diplomat.
“I think if you flip the scenario and say, what if we just dismissed somebody because a political opponent of the president had made an utterance, you would argue that it was pretty irrational to act in that manner,” Spicer said.
When pressed to explain how Yates could be cast as a “political opponent of the president, Spicer noted that she was “appointed by the Obama administration” and was a “strong supporter” of former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I think it was widely rumored [Yates would] play a large role in the Justice Department if Hillary Clinton had won,” Spicer said.
In her opening statement to the Senate subcommittee, Yates noted that she worked “through five Republican and Democratic administrations.”
In March 2016, Yates sent a memo to all DOJ employees reminding them not to engage in partisan political activities and to “ensure that politics does not compromise the integrity of our work.”
— Matt Viser (@mviser) May 9, 2017
And a former Justice Department colleague of Yates who spoke with Yahoo News dismissed the idea that Yates had her eyes on a political future.
“I told her months ago she should consider running for office, and she looked at me like I was from Mars,” the former colleague said. “She just doesn’t have any interest in it.”
But Yates’ refusal to comply with the order, Spicer said, “vindicates the president’s point that this was not somebody who was looking out” for the administration’s best interests.
For her part, Yates testified that “looking out” for the best interests of the president was not her job.
“I looked at [the order], I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful. I also thought that it was inconsistent with principles of the Department of Justice,” she said. “And that’s what I promised you I would do, and that’s what I did.”
On Twitter, Trump dismissed Yates’ testimony as “old news.”
— With additional reporting by Yahoo News’ Daniel Klaidman
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