“Sadly, the only plausible explanation of Trump’s indifference to Flynn’s being compromised by Russia is that Trump was himself a traitor” – Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe
During her May 8 testimony before a U.S. Senate Intelligence Sub-Committee, former Acting Attorney Sally Yates revealed that she, and perhaps the FBI, made an erroneous assumption — one that could have significantly compromised the integrity of an FBI Counterintelligence/Criminal investigation into possible “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was an investigation that was initiated in late July, 2016 and was certainly still pending on the morning of January 26, 2017 decided to call White House Counsel Don McGahn to arrange a meeting at which she would reveal significant classified details about General Michael Flynn, then the National Security Advisor to President Donald J. Trump.
“We had to balance a variety of interests,” Yates told Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
On the one hand, there was a need to “take into account the investigating agency’s desires and concerns about how a notification might impact that ongoing investigation.” On the other hand, “we felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House, because…the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.” (Emphasis added).
WHITEHOUSE: OK. And the scenario that you were concerned about was that you were seeing all these statements coming from the White House that were inconsistent with what you knew, you presumed that the White House was being truthful which meant that Flynn was misleading them.
YATES: Right. (Emphasis added).
The accuracy or inaccuracy of that “presumption” was critical.
If Pence and others inside the White House were “unknowingly making false statements” about Flynn’s interactions with the Russian ambassador, then Yates was correct when she testified that “once General Flynn was interviewed, there was no longer a concern about an impact on an investigation.” If that “presumption” proved to be erroneous, then Yates, by meeting with McGahn, provided the potential targets of an FBI investigation with what White House spokesman Sean Spicer derisively describes as a “heads up” — one that could and probably did send the White House into a Nixon-like cover-up mode in which first Yates and then FBI Director James B. Comey would be abruptly fired.
As Professor Tribe suggests, there is no other “plausible” explanation for how events would unfold.
Yates refusal to defend Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban provided the ideal cover to rid himself of an existential threat. In all likelihood, both Trump and his subordinates believed that with Yates out of the way, the White House could continue in a business-as-usual mode, with the “compromised” Flynn, as National Security Advisor participating in a conference call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That effort produced the 18-day gap between the first Yates/McGahn meeting and Flynn’s compelled resignation — a gap that cannot be explained on the basis of anything other than the fact that public exposure had compelled the White House to engage in a fall-back, damage-control strategy: fire Flynn, but insist that the National Security Advisor’s only sin was to mislead Pence.
The Yates/McGahn January meetings didn’t just deal with the question of whether Flynn lied to Pence. “We felt the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn’t true,” Yates proclaimed. Yet, no one from the White House uttered so much as one word to correct any of those known public falsehoods until after the Washington Post spilled the beans.
Pence spokesman Mark Lotter made the astounding claim that the vice president had no inkling that Flynn had lied to him until February 9. Lotter said Pence’s knowledge was “based on media accounts.”
This dubious rests alongside another which we know to be false: On March 9, 2017, when confronted by Bret Bair of Fox “News” about Flynn’s having received money to lobby for Turkey, Pence said: “hearing that story today was the first I’d heard about it.” In truth, a then vice president elect and head of the Trump transition was apprised of the conflicts-of-interests arising from Flynn’s financial ties to both Turkey and Russia via an Nov. 18, 2016 letter from Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD).
Thus, it appears that a well-motivated Sally Yates erred when she assumed that Pence and other White House officials had “unknowingly” misled the public about Flynn’s interactions with Kislyak. That error opened the door to the White House’s ongoing obstruction of a valid investigation.