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The Question Sally Yates Couldn’t Answer

The former acting attorney general told a Senate panel she had warned the Trump administration that Michael Flynn had lied about his conversations with a Russian official—but she couldn’t explain why it took another 18 days for him to be fired.

Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, was concerned that Michael Flynn’s false statements about his contacts with the Russian government had exposed him to blackmail, she testified during a Senate hearing on Monday.

During three hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terror, Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper discussed Russian interference in the 2016 election. The hearing offered the fullest timeline yet of the events that led to Flynn’s forced resignation on February 13, though it left significant questions unanswered.

“We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and also that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this. The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and they Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled Vice President Pence and others,” Yates said. “This was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this but that they also likely had proof. This created a compromise situation … where the national security adviser could be blackmailed by the Russians.”But the hearing also highlighted the deep partisan divides even inside a small subcommittee. Democrats on the panel focused in on the putative topic of the hearing, Russian interference in the election, but many of the subcommittee’s Republicans were more interested in pressing Yates on her decision not to defend President Trump’s Muslim travel ban in court. (Trump fired Yates on January 30 for that refusal.) Senator Ted Cruz asked a series of questions about whether Hillary Clinton or aides should have been prosecuted for mishandling classified information. Most of the GOP members departed the hearing after asking their questions. The subcommittee’s chair, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, seemed concerned about Russian interference but also determined to figure out who had leaked information about Flynn’s conduct to the press.

Yates—a political unknown before her firing—and her soft Georgia drawl were the stars of the show. (Clapper, a veteran of many testy exchanges with congressional panels, said at the outset that he’d thought he was done with such testimony when he left the government, and he made little attempt to conceal his displeasure at being there for the remainder of the hearing.)

Flynn, who is beset by a range of ethical questions, reportedly spoke with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak on December 29, discussing newly imposed U.S. sanctions on Russia, but Flynn told Pence and others he had not discussed the sanctions. On January 24, the FBI interviewed Flynn.

Yates testified that on January 26, having been briefed on the FBI interview, she called White House Counsel Don McGahn and asked for a meeting with him. Later that day, she and another career Justice Department lawyer met McGahn, and she informed him that DOJ knew that Flynn’s public accounts were untrue. She said she offered that information so that the White House could act as it saw fit, and did not advise on whether Flynn should be fired. McGahn asked how Flynn had done in his interview, she said, but Yates declined to say.

The following day, January 27, McGahn met with Yates again. She said he had four questions. First, he was curious why the Justice Department cared, as a matter of law, whether one White House official lied to another.

“Importantly, every time this lie was repeated, and the misrepresentations were getting more and more specific, every time that happened, it increased the compromise,” Yates said. “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Click for more from The Atlantic. This article was written by DAVID A. GRAHAM for
The Atlantic.

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