The Washington Post has now filled out some of the Michael Flynn timeline — at least when it comes to the Trump team's version of it. After Trump tweeted Saturday that he had fired Flynn because Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence and the FBI, many people pointed out Trump had never mentioned the FBI at the time. This seemed to suggest Trump knew Flynn was under investigation when he suggested then-FBI Director James B. Comey take it easy on Flynn a day after firing him. And that could be obstruction of justice, the argument goes.
So Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, sought to clarify a few things to The Post on Sunday. Dowd said Trump did, in fact, know at the time that Flynn had probably given the FBI the same contradictory information he had given Pence about his contacts with Russia's ambassador. Why? Because of those meetings between then-acting attorney general Sally Yates and White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II.
Here's the key part:
Dowd confirmed Sunday that he had drafted the tweet for Trump and acknowledged that it was sloppily worded. He said it was inaccurate to say the president was told that Flynn had lied to the FBI. Dowd said Sunday that Trump knew only what acting attorney general Sally Yates had told the White House counsel: that Flynn’s accounts to the agents interviewing him were the same as those Flynn gave Pence, and “that the [Justice] Department was not accusing him of lying.”
There are two big problems with this.
The first problem is it seems to contradict what Yates has said in her testimony to Congress. Yates said she had informed McGahn about a) Flynn being interviewed and b) that he had provided bad information to the White House. But she also clearly seemed to suggest she didn't share details of Flynn's comments to FBI investigators with McGahn.
“Mr. McGahn asked me how [Flynn] did [in the FBI interview], and I declined to give him an answer to that,” Yates said May 8.
And this appears to be the story Yates is sticking to. As The Post's Carol D. Leonnig, John Wagner and Ellen Nakashima report, people familiar with Yates's account say she never discussed the FBI investigation into Flynn with McGahn.
As I argued Saturday, it seems possible (if not likely) that McGahn inferred from that conversation that Flynn was under investigation. But Yates said and seems to maintain that she never directly shared information about what Flynn told the FBI.
What's more, even if Flynn had lied to the White House, it would seem to be a stretch to assume he had also lied to the FBI — especially given the criminal penalties involved. It might have been evident that Flynn was under investigation (given Yates described his communications being intercepted, for instance), but why would you assume Flynn had put himself in legal jeopardy?
It's an incongruence between Yates's and the White House's accounts that really needs to be nailed down.
Which brings us to the second big problem. The White House is saying — clearly, for the first time — that Trump did indeed know Flynn had offered a problematic account of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the FBI. You might recall back in mid-February that Trump basically had to be dragged kicking and screaming into firing Flynn, and he seemed to regret it in the weeks afterward. He only did it after public pressure became so intense over Pence's false denials that the White House had no other choice.
We knew previously that Trump resisted firing Flynn even though Yates had told McGahn that Flynn lied to the White House and may have been compromised because of it. Now, according to what Dowd is saying, Trump also resisted firing Flynn for weeks even though he was informed that Flynn had apparently made the same types to statements to the FBI. Trump really wanted to keep Flynn on, apparently, because he was willing to put up with his own adviser misleading federal law enforcement. Apparently that's not a disqualifier in the Trump White House.
Dowd clarified to The Post on Sunday that it was McGahn's and Trump's understanding “that the [Justice] Department was not accusing [Flynn] of lying.” But again, it's completely unclear what this is based upon if Yates didn't share details of Flynn's interview or the investigation into him.
And just a reminder in all of this: Yates was under oath. It would be interesting to see what McGahn and others in the White House are saying when they are.