“To state the obvious, you don’t want your National Security Adviser compromised with the Russians” — Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates
Yesterday on CNN’s morning show, former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden gave his expert opinion on former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s testimony before Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism. Specifically, Hayden was interested in the part of the hearing during which Yates testified that she warned the White House counsel in very plain words that national security advisor General Mike Flynn (of deliciously ironic “Lock Her Up” fame) was open to blackmail by the Russians. Yates, for context, was appointed acting attorney general by President Obama after receiving her first federal appointment from George H.W. Bush and being promoted under both Clinton and Bush 43. “If the acting Attorney General insists on seeing the White House counsel, that is a tectonic thing in its own right,” Hayden assured CNN viewers. “It suggests one: the chaos in the Trump White House, [two] is the inordinate distrust of officials from the government they were replacing, and [last] is going to feed that darker narrative with regard to the relationship with the Trump campaign and the Russian Federation.”
But what was so shocking about Yates’s testimony was that the White House Counsel in question — Donald McGahn, whose CV includes work for the Koch brothers as well as The Donald — at two separate meetings with multiple witnesses, was pretty unconcerned. When Yates informed McGahn that Mike Pence had been (assumedly without knowing he was doing so) relayed untrue information to the public and the press regarding Flynn’s contact with the Russians, McGahn rather bewilderingly asked what concern it was of the Department of Justice if one White House official lies to another. As Senator Al Franken would imply during his time with Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the importance of such a lie on Flynn’s part is almost laughably apparent with regard to the safety of the Republic.
While Franken stood out as an authoritative and logical voice (his connect-the-dots message regarding the aftermath of Flynn’s firing is particularly satisfying to watch), his colleagues from across the aisle seemed determined to make complete fools of themselves with their pandering, ignorant lines of questioning and their overt condescension to a woman who proved her mind to be more than a legal match for anyone else in the room.
First came Ted Cruz, who was put in his place twice and then had to leave the chamber, apparently to find a nearby burn center to tend his wounds. Cruz started by attempting to prove the legality of Trump’s Muslim ban by citing a statute to which Yates had a more recent, relevant statute ready at hand. Cruz then attempted to trap Yates with another question about the ban: “Are you aware of any instance in which the Department of Justice has formally approved the legality of a policy and three days later the Attorney General has directed the department not to follow that policy?” Yates was again having none of Cruz’s condescension: “I’m not, but I’m also not aware of a situation where the Office of Legal Counsel was advised not to tell the Attorney General about it until after it was over,” came the reply. It’s worth noting here that most of the Republican questions had to do not with Russia, the topic at hand, but with the Muslim ban, which Yates blocked.
Next came Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, a Good Ole Boy right out of central casting (you could Photoshop his pathetically-chinned face onto every white male extra in Mississippi Burning without anyone noticing). This fossil of a man just about needed Yates to explain the role of the Attorney General to him after he asked with barely-veiled misogyny, “Who appointed you to the Supreme Court?” as though the nine justices were the only constitutional lawyers in the country. But the ignorance didn’t stop in the Senate. Yesterday, Sean Spicer defended Trump’s “decisive” action on Flynn despite the fact that it took 18 days for Trump to make a decision before accusing Yates of being pro-Clinton based on “widely rumored” accounts.
And just to put a nice cherry on top of the whole affair, The Don slouched toward Twitter to both intimidate Yates before her hearing and completely misunderstand James Clapper’s most important testimony in his pathetic desperation to be free of the black cloud of corruption hanging over Trump’s circus of an administration. Whether they like it or not, Yates filled in some important gaps in the Russia question on Monday, and the snowball continues to roll down the hill. If you listen closely, the shifting before an avalanche can be heard.