He was warned. He was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted.

Trump and Flynn
Donald Trump and his Russian connection, erstwhile National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

| Yesterday we finally got to hear from Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General fired by Donald Trump in the wake of his Muslim ban and just a few days after she told the White House that Michael Flynn had been compromised and subject to blackmail by the Russians.

Yates was supposed to have testified long ago before the House intelligence committee, but that appearance was cancelled amidst the Devin Nuñes fiasco skulking about the White House grounds to report to the White House information that, it turned out, came from the White House, another Trump diversionary tactic.

In the hearing room of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper swore their oaths to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" then proceeded to tell a tantalizing tale of warnings and intrigue worthy of a best-selling thriller. As laid out by Yates in a crisp yet succulent southern accent, something (we don't know what because that is classified) happened during Flynn's interview with the FBI that made top Justice Department officials so concerned that Yates requested an immediate meeting with the White House Counsel, without even waiting for the interviewing agent's written report. Flynn's answers, Yates said, "created a compromised situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians. Finally, we told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate."

They were warned.

The following day the White House counsel Don McGahn called Yates back to go over additional points, the first of which, according to Yate's testimony, was why the Department of Justice cared if one White House staffer lied to another White House staffer. Never mind that the two "White House staffers" in question were the National Security Advisor and the Vice President! Yates' answer was, "Every time this lie [that Flynn had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador] was repeated and the misrepresentations were getting more and more specific, as they were coming out, every time that happened, it increased the compromise and to state the obvious: You don't want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians."

They were given an explanation.

Although Yates conveyed her warning with the expectation that the White House would take action, no action was taken for some 18 days. It was only after the Washington Post published an account of the warning that Flynn was finally fired. The White House has variously spun Flynn's dismissal as because he lied to Vice President Pence who then publicly passed on Flynn's lie as fact. However, as with all things Russian, Trump himself continues to insist that Flynn "was treated so bad" by the "fake media." Whatever is behind all of this, it's painfully obvious that the Trump administration, i.e., Donald Trump, didn't want to know. The question is Why?

Nevertheless, they persisted.

Throughout the hearing there were delicious hints of more to come, as in details could be discussed, "but not here" (in public). 

The cravenness of several of the Republicans on the committee was on full display: Ted Cruz (R-TX) tried to make it about Hillary's emails. John Kennedy (R-LA) wanted to ask questions but cut off all answers because he had more questions to ask. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was fascinated with who leaked what to whom. John Cornyn (R-TX) was "disappointed" after voting for her confirmation that Yates had shown the temerity to decline to defend Trump's Muslim ban and "countermand the executive order of the president of the United States." And it was here that Yates showed why you shouldn't mess with her:

In fact, I'll remember my confirmation hearing. In an exchange that I had with you and others of your colleagues where you specifically asked me in that hearing that if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional and one of your colleagues said or even just that would reflect poorly on the Department of Justice, would I say no? And I looked at this, 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 and I said no. And that's what I promised you I would do and that's what I did.

Zing!

Much to sub-committee chair Lindsey Graham's credit, he repeatedly praised Yates as "incredibly credible" and said "she did the right thing by going to the White House general counsel knowing what she did.” Graham did show determination to root out the identity of whoever leaked the information to the Washington Post. But suppose nobody had leaked; Flynn might still be National Security Advisor today, compromises and all. And that's a scary possibility. It's time to recognize that whistleblowing doesn't just happen through official channels; sometimes the only way to get things out is to jump the banks of the channels and go directly to the press. Imagine if the Pentagon papers had never seen the light of day. Imagine if the NSA revelations had not emerged. Imagine if Flynn ....

Last updated on May 23, 2017

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