The White House knew for weeks that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was possibly vulnerable to blackmail attempts by the Kremlin before firing him, former acting attorney general Sally Yates told the US Senate judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism on May 8.
Flynn was fired on Feb.13, more than two weeks after Yates told the White House counsel that Flynn had misled officials, including vice president Mike Pence, about conversations he’d had with Russian officials. Yates was worried these interactions could be manipulated by Moscow.
At the time, Flynn falsely told Pence he hadn’t discussed sanctions in calls and texts with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in late December. Based on this information, Pence repeated the false account in a televised interview with CBS.
“We weren’t the only ones that knew all of this; the Russians also knew about what general Flynn had done,” Yates told the Senate subcommittee. “Compromise was certainly the number one concern. The Russians can use compromised materials in a number of ways; sometimes covertly and sometimes subtly… you don’t want the national security adviser to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over him.”
Yates highlighted that she was giving the White House this information “so they could take action.” When White House counsel Don McGahn asked if Flynn should be fired, Yates repeated that ”we were giving them the information so they could take action.” The White House has always denied that Flynn did anything illegal, insisting that he was fired because he had lost the president’s trust.
Republican senators on the committee focused on how Flynn’s calls with Kislyak were leaked, with chairman Lindsey Graham repeatedly asking about “unmasking” procedures and the sharing of classified information. Earlier in the day, president Donald Trump had sent out a tweet suggesting that senators should follow this line of questioning instead of investigating potential White House inaction.