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Three things we learned from Sally Yates’s testimony

And what it says about how Donald Trump handled the scandal regarding Michael Flynn and Russia


 
Former US Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and former Trump advisor US Ret. General Michael Flynn in Washington, United States on May 8, 2017. (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Former US Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and former Trump advisor US Ret. General Michael Flynn in Washington, United States on May 8, 2017. (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Donald Trump was less than one month into his presidency when he fired Sally Yates from her role as acting attorney general. (Or, rather, for Yates to be forced to resign.) On Monday, Yates was back in the public eye to offer testimony to the Senate judiciary subcommittee regarding the 2016 presidential election, alleged interference by Russia, and Donald Trump’s first pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Here are three things we learned from her testimony:

Yates warned the White House that Flynn could be subject to Russian blackmail
And she did so multiple times in late January—twice in person and then a third time over the phone—with White House counsel Don McGahn. Yates didn’t spell out exactly what they spoke about, as that conversation is classified, but it related to Flynn making false statements to White House officials regarding his contact with Russian officials—and as such, she warned, his false statements could make Flynn subject to blackmail.

“The Russians knew that General Flynn had misled the vice-president and others,” Yates said. “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised by the Russians.”

Trump was not quick to act
Yates’s warning to the White House wasn’t what ultimately led to Flynn’s resignation. Instead, it was more than two weeks later—after the Washington Post published an article about Yates’s meeting with White House officials and her warning to them that Flynn could potentially be compromised—that Trump finally acted. In February he told reporters, “[Flynn] didn’t tell the vice-president of the United States the facts and then he didn’t remember, and that’s just not acceptable. I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence.”

On the day of Yates’s testimony, however, Trump seemed more concerned with how that story ever reached the papers.

Yates stands by the decision that ultimately got her fired
In late January, when Trump signed his first executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries, Yates recommended the Department of Justice not defend the order. Trump fired her soon afterwards.

On Monday, when asked about that decision, Yates said, “Look, I understand that people of good will, who are good folks, can make different decisions about this. I understand that, but all I can say is that I did my job the best way I knew how.”

As for Trump’s 2015 statement calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” that campaign pledge was removed from his website on Monday after a reporter brought up the controversial promise during a White House press briefing.


 

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