WASHINGTON — 18 days.
That’s how long it took the White House to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn after acting Attorney General Sally Yates met with White House counsel Don McGahn to inform him that Flynn wasn’t telling the truth about his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and, as a result, represented a blackmail risk.
“We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates said in a Senate subcommittee hearing aimed at gathering details of the Russian hacking of the 2016 election on Monday in Washington. She added: “Logic would tell you that you don’t want the national security adviser to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over him.”
Yates noted that she met with McGahn on January 26 and again on January 27 to inform him of the fact that Flynn’s assertions — as relayed in the media by Vice President Mike Pence — were simply not accurate. She did so both because she thought the Justice Department owed it to the vice president to tell him what they knew but also because they knew the Russians knew of Flynn’s problems.
Yates added that McGahn asked for — and was granted — the chance to examine the materials that led the Justice Department to their conclusion. She said she did not know whether McGahn or anyone else in the White House actually reviewed those materials. Yates also repeatedly said she decided to inform McGahn and the White House of what they knew of Flynn so the White House could “take action.”
Put aside everything else — Republican attempts to steer the hearing to the unmasking of Trump campaign officials, incidental collection, leaks and leakers — that transpired in Monday’s hearing. The only thing that really matters going forward is what led McGahn and the rest of the White House to not act on the warnings — and evidence — provided to them regarding Flynn for more than two weeks. And, when they did finally fire Flynn, why was the reason cited by the White House the fact that he had not told Pence the truth regarding meetings with Kislyak? After all, the White House — via McGahn — knew that information from January 26 onward.
Here’s Trump’s explanation, from a February 16 press conference, about when he learned about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak (it’s long but important to excerpt broadly from):
“As far as the general’s concerned, when I first heard about it, I said huh, that doesn’t sound wrong. My counsel came, Don McGahn, White House Counsel, and he told me and I asked him, he can speak very well for himself. He said he doesn’t think anything is wrong, you know, really didn’t think.
It was really, what happened after that but he didn’t think anything was done wrong. I didn’t either because I waited a period of time and I started to think about it, I said ‘well I don’t see’ — to me, he was doing the job.
The information was provided by — who I don’t know, Sally Yates. And I was a little surprised because I said ‘doesn’t sound like he did anything wrong there.’ But he did something wrong with respect to the vice president and I thought that was not acceptable. As far as — as far as the actual making the call, fact I’ve watched various programs and I’ve read various articles where he was just doing his job.
That was very normal. You know, first everybody got excited because they thought he did something wrong. After they thought about it, it turned out he was just doing his job. So — and I do. And by the way, with all of that being said, I do think he’s a fine man.”
That just doesn’t make sense. Trump says that the information provided to McGahn by Yates “doesn’t sound like he did anything wrong there.” But, according to Yates’ testimony — under oath! — what she told McGahn was that Flynn was compromised by the Russians and was a potential blackmail risk.
So, either one of these two things is true:
Trump didn’t see Yates’ warning as passed to McGahn as cause for removal of Flynn. Trump didn’t believe Yates was telling the truth about Flynn.
There’s just no other options to explain why it took 18 days between Yates’ telling McGahn that one of Trump’s top national security advisers was compromised by Russia and that adviser being fired. And that, when Flynn was fired, the reason given was that he had not told the truth to the vice president as opposed to the fact that he was a prime target for Russian blackmail.
It’s no longer an acceptable answer to say — as Trump and White House advisers like Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus have — that the information passed from Yates to McGahn was insignificant. Unless Yates is lying — and no one has suggested she is — then what she told McGahn on January 26 (and followed up on the next day) was of huge importance.
“Why wouldn’t you fire a guy who did this?” Sen. Al Franken wondered aloud at the hearing.
Why didn’t Trump act? That’s the question the White House has to answer. And soon.