by Itunuoluwa Adebo
Former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified Monday that she expected White House officials to “take action’’ on her January warning that former national security adviser Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia in her first public statements since she was fired in the early days of the Trump administration.
Yates described discussions she had with White House Counsel Donald McGahn, on Jan. 26, in which she laid out her concerns about public claims made by Vice President Pence and other White House officials regarding Flynn’s conversations in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
During this period, VP Mike Pence and others had publicly denied that Flynn had discussed relaxing US sanctions with the Russian official. “We began our meeting telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related to conduct that General Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth,” Yates said. “The vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the American public, and General Flynn was compromised by the Russians.’’
The hearing marked the most intense public scrutiny Yates has ever faced, but she did not appear rattled. The longtime prosecutor had kept a low profile until her brief tenure as acting attorney general, when she instructed government lawyers not to defend the president’s first executive order on immigration temporarily barring entry to the United States for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries and refugees. Trump immediately fired her.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) challenged her on that move, saying that while he voted to confirm her as deputy attorney general, “I find it enormously disappointing that you somehow vetoed the decision of the Office of Legal Counsel with regard to the lawfulness of the president’s order.’’
Yates calmly replied that she remembered her confirmation hearing as one “where you specifically asked me in that hearing that if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional . . . would I say no? . . . That’s what I promised you I would do, and that’s what I did.’’ after even further criticism , she responded clearly: “I did my job.’’
During the hearing, Yates described her concerns about Flynn but was careful not to say anything that would reveal the classified details that sparked them. “