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Opinion Sally Yates just threw the White House under the bus

Yates: 'You don't want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians' (Video: Video: Reuters, Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Video: Reuters)

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates is testifying this afternoon along with former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism, chaired by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who unlike some GOP colleagues seems interested in getting to the bottom of the Russia scandal in a timely fashion and in full view of the American public.

Word leaked out before she appeared that President Barack Obama, according to multiple Obama administration officials, warned then-President-elect Donald Trump not to hire Michael Flynn as national security adviser. News reports also previewed Yates’s testimony that she had issued an urgent warning to the White House counsel concerning Flynn’s contacts with Russia, which Flynn lied about and would therefore open him to blackmail.

Former CIA and NSA director Michael V. Hayden had chimed in on CNN’s morning show: “If the acting attorney general insists on seeing the White House counsel, that is a tectonic thing in its own right,” Hayden said. “It suggests one: the chaos in the Trump White House, second is the inordinate distrust of the officials from the government they were replacing, and third is going to feed that darker narrative out there with regard to the relationship with the Trump campaign and the Russian Federation.”

Sally Yates publicly confirms important facts about the Trump-Russia story

With all that build-up, Yates’s testimony might have been anti-climactic. It was not. She described two in-person meetings with Trump White House Counsel Donald McGahn. Both meetings were attended by one of McGahn’s associates and a Justice Department career civil servant from the national security division. In other words, there were plenty of witnesses. Yates testified that she told McGahn on Jan. 26 that Justice was aware that what Flynn was telling Vice President Pence about contacts with the Russians was untrue. She explained the “underlying conduct was problematic in and of itself,” and that it set up the potential for Flynn to be “compromised.” McGahn called her back to the White House on Jan. 27 when he asked questions including what was the concern about one White House official lying to another, whether Flynn might be criminally prosecuted, whether taking action would compromise the investigation and whether the administration could see the underlying data. On Jan. 30, Yates told McGahn the intelligence could in fact be reviewed.

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 8. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Bill O'Leary/Reuters)

The mystery as to why Flynn remained in place for 18 days remains. Did McGahn tell Trump about his meetings with Yates? Did McGahn ever review the underlying intelligence? Who made the decision that keeping Flynn on the job until four days after The Post broke the story that Flynn had lied to Pence? Why did they not believe his ongoing presence in the administration was a problem — or set Pence straight that he was telling untrue things to the American people because Flynn had lied to Pence?

Yates repeated that the risk was that the Russians would subtly and not so subtly use the fact Flynn had lied to pressure him in ways favorable to them. And she stressed it was not fair to Pence for him to be in the dark. Ironically, it seemed Yates was more concerned about Pence’s reputation than was the rest of the administration.

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Clapper’s testimony should not be overlooked. His description of the thoroughness and certainty of the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference belies President Trump’s bizarre and entirely unjustified efforts to call into question his intelligence community’s findings. The findings and conclusions some four months after the report concluding Russia had interfered in the election to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton was issued “still stand,” he said. Clapper stated, “They must be congratulating themselves for having exceeded their wildest expectations. They are now emboldened to continue such activities in the future, both here and around the world, and to do so even more intensely.” He warned, “If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundations of our democratic political system, this episode is it.”

Yates’s testimony continues, as do the string of questions surrounding the administration’s bizarre conduct.

UPDATE, 4:30 p.m.: Yates is giving a tutorial in committee testifying. She just walloped not one but two GOP senators. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) tried to accuse her of misconduct in refusing to defend the Trump administration’s travel ban, which was ultimately blocked by multiple courts. Yates reminded him that at her confirmation hearing, Cornyn had asked if she would refuse to carry out an illegal or unconstitutional order. She recalled she had promised him she would indeed refuse. Ouch. Then up came Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) sleazily trying to get her to opine on Huma Abedin’s email habits(!). When that led nowhere, he took to quoting the statutory basis for the travel ban. She corrected him by pointing out that there was subsequent congressional action that specifically prohibited religious discrimination. Moreover, she took the opportunity to drop the news bomb that the administration ordered the Office of Legal Counsel to not even tell the acting attorney general the ban was in the works. Game, set, match.