Yates’s testimony boiled down to seven points: 1) The Trump transition team was not being surveilled, nor was Flynn. While she could not say why because of national security concerns, it was obvious that then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak was the one being monitored. Flynn wound up being recorded when he spoke with Kislyak; 2) Flynn was attempting to undercut sanctions (per Yates’s testimony: “General Flynn had essentially neutered the U.S. government’s message of deterrence”); 3) Flynn lied to the vice president about his calls; 4) The FBI’s investigation was a counterintelligence — not criminal — investigation; 5) The investigation was not closed on Jan. 4 precisely because the FBI learned of Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak; 6) Flynn’s lying to the FBI was material and indeed at the core of the counterintelligence investigation, contrary to Attorney General William P. Barr’s assertion in trying to undo Flynn’s guilty plea by dismissing the case; and 7) It was highly abnormal and unprecedented for the attorney general to step in to rescue a friend of the president in this way, an action that damages the Justice Department’s credibility.
As she told Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.): “The only way that the Department of Justice can go about its job is if people when they are interviewed by the FBI are truthful and candid and provide complete information. That’s the only way to be able to sift through and figure out what the facts are and to be able to determine if charges should be filed.” She provided a handy account of the importance of investigating and questioning Flynn:
General Flynn had had conversations with the Russian ambassador, back-channel secret conversations neutering the sanctions to the U.S. government and had been covering it up, had been providing false information to the Vice President and others to put out publicly. We, we being the government, needed to know what was going on here. Was General Flynn acting on his own or was he working with others? Because the investigators needed to be able to figure out what the relationship was between the campaign and the Russians. Had General Flynn been honest, had he told them the truth in this interview, then the agents would have learned then what they only learned much, much later after he finally told the truth and that is that these were not off-the-cuff conversations that he was having with the Russian ambassador. But rather, that these were conversations that were carefully organized and planned with other members of the Trump transition. And that he had also been very careful to lie about and cover up even to the point of sending his deputy out when the news first broke of this to call the Washington Post and to give them false information, and to say that he had never discussed sanctions at all. The cover-up continued after that as he told lies to more and more people.
Yates batted down a number of popular Republican lies. No, no one in the Obama administration tried to steer the investigation; to the contrary, they warned against it. (During a meeting on the topic, then-Vice President Joe Biden did not say much of anything.) No, Yates did not know of the inaccuracies in the FISA application to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page at the time she signed off on it. No, the Trump campaign was not treated differently — because it was the only campaign that the Russians approached and helped.
While President Trump raged from afar on Twitter, Yates presented what should be the face of Justice Department. She calmly and forcefully recounted facts. She steered clear of policy disputes and refused to second-guess her successor, former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein. She aptly demonstrated that, while Republicans have been sucked into a parallel world of conspiracies and falsehoods, the facts are the facts.
It is this deportment, candor and professionalism that Barr has shredded while in office — by falsely representing the Mueller report; intervening on behalf of Trump confidant Roger Stone and Flynn; turning a blind eye toward Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine; fanning flames of already debunked conspiracies (apparently willing to release a report from his hand-picked U.S. attorney John Durham shortly before the election); and presiding over a series of embarrassing misrepresentations to the courts (e.g., on the 2020 Census, on DACA). The next attorney general will need to rebuild the Justice Department’s credibility, enact some barriers to political interference by political players and scrub the department of those who have violated their oaths of office and professional obligations. If we are looking for the antithesis of Barr, we need look no further than Sally Yates.
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