Russiagate: The Comey story begins to come together
Yesterday’s testimony by former acting AG Sally Yates and former CIA director James Clapper filled in a lot of the blanks in the James Comey story.
➜ Yates warned the White House counsel about then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn less than a week after Trump took the oath of office:
The president’s national security adviser, she said, had lied to the vice president about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.
“We wanted to tell the White House as quickly as possible,” Ms. Yates told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday. “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.” …
On Jan. 26, Ms. Yates said, she called the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, regarding “a very sensitive matter” that they could discuss only in person. Later that day, at the White House, she warned Mr. McGahn that White House officials were making statements “that we knew not to be the truth.” Ms. Yates said she explained to Mr. McGahn how she knew Mr. Flynn’s statements were untrue, though she did not go into details Monday, citing concerns about sensitive information.
“Why does it matter to D.O.J. if one White House official lies to another White House official?” Mr. McGahn asked at a second meeting the next day, according to Ms. Yates.
It was not just a political concern, Ms. Yates replied. Intelligence services constantly look for leverage against foreign officials. If Mr. Flynn lied to his bosses, and Russian officials knew it, Moscow could use it as leverage against him.
➜ (Earlier in the day, The New York Times reported that Obama had warned Trump not to hire Flynn.)
➜ The testimony raises the question: how could transition team boss and future veep Mike Pence not know Flynn was compromised?
“Vice President Mike Pence, he was the head of the transition when the transition was notified multiple times, including in person twice by Flynn’s lawyers, and in writing by Congress, that Mike Flynn had taken foreign payments,” [Rachel] Maddow said [on the Monday edition of TRMS].
“Foreign payments were also the subject of multiple contemporaneous press reports. NBC News reports that the Trump transition had direct knowledge of Mike Flynn’s payments from foreign sources, but nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence, head of the transition, he proclaims he was perfectly ignorant of that fact until weeks after Mike Flynn was fired. …
“Whether or not you care about what the vice president knew about Mike Flynn, whether you care about that subject itself or not, the bigger question is why are they telling this lie about it?” Maddow said. “Why are they lying about this stuff? They are telling stories about Mike Flynn that make no sense given we now know about the facts. …
“It is not good for the White House that they cannot come up with a story about Mike Flynn that has the benefit of being true,” Maddow said. “That was a problem for them before (Monday), it became a much bigger problem for them after (Monday’s hearing). Before (Monday), we knew that he had inexplicably waited 18 days after being warned about Mike Flynn before they fired him. (Monday), that delay became all the more inexplicable and even a little bit scary.”
➜ And don’t get us started about that 18-day gap:
Watergate buffs undoubtedly heard the echoes of that famous occasion on Monday, when they heard the news media’s repeated references to an “18-day gap” in regards to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. That’s the length of time it took between the day Yates informed the White House that its national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had possibly been compromised by the Russian government and the day President Donald Trump finally fired him from his post.
There may be evidence of other specific wrongdoing by Flynn:
The wiretapped conversations between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak remain classified, and Ms. Yates avoided even acknowledging them. Senators, though, were far less circumspect in both their questions and their commentary.
➜ Yates hammered smarmy Senator Ted Cruz so hard that she’s created buzz among progressives:
The liberal reaction on social media to Yates’s testimony was exuberantly positive.
The praise was focused particularly on her clash with Cruz and on the bluntness of her words regarding the seriousness of the Flynn matter.
Yates seemed to relish even the harshest exchanges during the hearing, and she never came close to losing her poise.
There is sure to be speculation that Yates could seek, and win, political office — if she wants it.