Sally Yates was Brilliant, Admirable, and Honest—but Will it Make a Difference

by Mark Sumner –

After having originally being scheduled to speak in March, before Devin Nunes led the House Intelligence Committee down in flames, Sally Yates finally got the chance to appear before the public in a Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon. Yates delivered a level of calm precision usually limited to surgical instruments as she laid out, step by step, the warnings she delivered to White House counsel Don McGahn concerning Michael Flynn.

With Democrats providing on-topic questions, it became obvious that far from the casual “heads up” on the matter that the Trump regime had indicated, Yates and the Justice Department had provided a thorough and extensive briefing both on then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s activities regarding Russia and the conflict between what Flynn had actually done and what was being said in public. In fact, the biggest actual news delivered during the testimony was the extent of Yates’ warnings and the way that McGahn’s questions made it clear that he, at least, seemed to understand the import of what she was saying.

As straightforward as Yates was in her testimony, observers were likely to be frustrated in several ways. First, Yates was scrupulous in holding herself to a standard of not just withholding information that was still classified, but shied away from providing secondary information that might have been used to make out the shape of those classified matters. That was particularly obvious when it came to the heart of What Did Michael Flynn Do? Though Yates would say that Flynn’s “activities” were at odds with the statements coming from the Trump White House, she would not give the slightest hint concerning those activities, holding back from even admitting that Flynn was in communications with the Russian ambassador, which is information that’s already become widely known.

Perhaps even more frustrating was Yates’ apparent assumption that the information coming from Trump and Pence was always honest on their part. That is, she assumed — or at least played it as if she assumed — that every statement from Trump and Pence that disagreed with what she knew of Michael Flynn’s activities, was because Flynn had misinformed others. She never voiced the idea that Trump, Pence, or anyone else in their campaign might have knowingly colluded with Flynn to spread false information. And based on what we’ve seen, that seems both a large and a curious assumption.

It’s especially curious considering that Yates was certainly aware that the Trump White House was deliberately distorting her own warning about Flynn. In an attempt to help explain the 18 day gap between Yates’ coming to the White House to inform them that their National Security Advisor was lying about activities concerning the Russian government, and Donald Trump actually taking any action, team Trump made it seem that Yates’ warning was considerably less serious than it was.

In fact, Trump didn’t take any action until Flynn’s chats with the Russian ambassador became public through leaks to the press. There’s a good chance that Michael Flynn might be the National Security Advisor still, had someone not come forward to the Washington Post. Which goes a long way toward explaining why Republicans had no interest in asking about the supposed subject of the hearing, and a lot of interest in just who leaked about Flynn’s misconduct.

Yates’ testimony underscored the way in which Flynn’s actions left him vulnerable to influence by the Russian government, and in questioning she did a terrific job of pointing up the little “favor for a favor” means in which a compromised official can be drawn deeper and deeper into a position where they are under control of an outside force.

Both Yates and former Director National Intelligence James Clapper denied having a hand in revealing Flynn’s Russian connections to the press, but whoever did so should be proud: Allowing Michael Flynn to remain at the center of the nation’s security picture when he was known to be severely compromised was an act that goes beyond reckless. Not every leaker or every leak is defensible. But the leak concerning Flynn, at a time when it appeared Trump might leave the man in power indefinitely, should be celebrated.

Meanwhile, Republicans — as has been the case in all the hearings surrounding Trump–Russia — were utterly unconcerned about the central topic. Some, like committee chair Lindsay Graham, spent their time unproductively chewing the cud of “unmasking” that they’ve been masticating pointlessly for months. And that despite Clapper going to considerable effort to restate that unmasking was neither unusual nor a cause for concern.

Other Republicans chose to hound Yates for her decision to refuse aligning the Justice Department behind Donald Trump’s initial Muslim ban — the action that brought about Sally Yates’ swift departure from the department in January. The Senate trio of Cornyn, Kennedy, and Cruz attempted to pen down Yates on this matter with each taking a slightly different approach. But in each case Yates did something the three men didn’t expect — she was forceful, knowledgeable, and fully prepared to defend her decision. Beyond that, she diced pretend legal scholar Cruz and conspiracy theorist Kennedy so thoroughly, that both men were left visibly trying to find where their attacks had gone wrong.

Watching Sally Yates hand Ted Cruz his pretentious ass was extremely gratifying. But the overall result of the hearing was simply to reinforce what we already knew — the Trump White House ignored Yates’ warnings about Flynn and left him in a position that imperiled the nation.

 

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos