After former acting attorney general Sally Yates give her eagerly awaited testimony to a Senate committee today, President Trump tweeted: “Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today — she said nothing but old news!”
I don’t always agree with Trump’s tweets, but I think the substance of this one is correct. Yates did not say anything of importance that was new, as the mainstream media had hoped she would do.
Here’s how the New York Times summarizes Yates’ appearance:
*Ms. Yates testified that she told President Trump’s White House in its early days that his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was susceptible to blackmail.
*Her testimony raises questions about how Mr. Trump responded to her concerns about Mr. Flynn, who was not fired until two weeks later, once Ms. Yates’s unease became public.
But the first item has been on the table for months. It’s nothing new. Therefore, any “concerns” that flow from her testimony about it also existed long ago.
As to those concerns, the inference that Yates and the Times want us to draw is that the Trump administration retained Flynn for two weeks (actually two-and-a-half, I think) knowing that he was susceptible to blackmail. However, it’s not clear how valid this concern is.
If Flynn was susceptible to blackmail, it was because he had denied having conversations with the Russian ambassador (there is no indication that the substance of any such talks was problematic). Of particular importance is that he denied this in a talk with Vice President Pence. That denial may have made him vulnerable to blackmail because Russia could threaten to reveal that he had lied or misled. (How realistic this prospect was, I don’t know).
But once Yates told the Trump administration the same thing, and assuming that someone in the Trump administration let Flynn know it had been so informed, the possibility of blackmail dissipated, it seems to me. The Russians could hardly get anywhere with Flynn by threatening to reveal what he figured the Trump administration already knew.
It isn’t clear to me when the Trump administration first informed Flynn of what it learned from Yates. However, once it did, Flynn was no longer vulnerable to blackmail. And it seems clear that he wasn’t vulnerable for the entire two-plus weeks he stayed on.
I should add that the retention of an embattled presidential appointee for 18 days (or so) is not unusual. It often takes longer for a head to roll in Washington, D.C. Presidents are understandably reluctant to fire advisers with whom they have formed a good relationship. Indeed, sometimes they simply refuse to do so. Susan Rice lied shamelessly about the Benghazi attacks. She wasn’t fired; she was promoted.
I should also add that there appears to be no evidence that the Russians attempted to blackmail Flynn, much less that they succeeded.
Finally, a word about the only real news of substance to come out regarding General Flynn — the revelation that Obama advised Trump not to hire Flynn. To assess this matter, we need to know what Obama said to Trump about Flynn.
From all that appears so far, he recommended not hiring Flynn because he thought Flynn had done a poor job and/or had behaved badly as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. There is no indication, as far as I’ve seen reported, that Obama told Trump that Flynn was too close to Putin, that he was a security risk, or anything similarly damning.
As head of the DIA, Flynn had been a thorn in Obama’s side. He had openly rejected the administration’s false narrative that the threat of terrorism was receding and that ISIS was “the jayvee.”
Thus, Trump would not have been surprised to hear Obama bad-mouth Flynn. But Trump agreed with Flynn’s concerns about Obama’s line on terrorism and may well have admired Flynn for pushing back. Thus, it’s not surprising, let alone scandalous, that Trump ignored Obama’s advice and gave a key job to a key campaign adviser.
It didn’t strike me as a great decision at the time, and events have shown it to be a poor one. But there’s nothing scandalous about a poor personnel decision.
Indeed, we’re still waiting for anything scandalous about Trump’s conduct regarding Flynn or Russia to be revealed. The Democrats and the mainstream media have been at this for quite a while now. So far, they have come up empty. Yates’ public testimony did not improve their case.
NOTE: I have revised this post since publishing it initially.