Threat Management, Threat Intelligence

Yates told White House Flynn could be blackmailed

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates informed the White House in January that former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn "could be blackmailed by the Russians," Yates told a Senate subcommittee Monday. 

"We believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians," she said.

So disturbed was Yates by the information gleaned by the FBI from interviews with Flynn at the White House, that she didn't wait until agents wrote a report on their findings before requesting a face-to-face meeting with White House Counsel Donald McGahn. 

Testifying alongside former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Yates said the matter took on urgency after the FBI interviews were conducted.

Flynn's underlying conduct "was problematic in and of itself," Yates said.

“We had two concerns. Compromise was certainly the number one concern. And the Russians use compromise material information in a variety of ways, sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly," she said. "And again our concern was that you have a very sensitive position like the national security adviser and you don't want that person to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over them." 

The Justice Department was also concerned with information Flynn gave Vice President Mike Pence, who defended him publicly, “I will also say that another motivating factor is we felt like the vice president was entitled to know that the information he had been given and he was relaying to the American public wasn't true," Yates said.

The Russians, the former acting AG said, knew that Flynn was telling two very different tales to them and to Pence, knowledge they could use to blackmail the former National Security Advisor.

"We weren't the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others," Yates said.

Her testimony came just hours after the New York Times reported that former President Barack Obama in early November warned Trump not to hire Flynn, who he had fired as DNI chief. 

In addition to two meetings at the White House (the second occurred the morning after the initial meet-up), Yates said she had three phone calls with McGahn, the last on January 27 to inform him that the Justice Department had gathered underlying documents for the White House to review. But she said she didn't know didn't know if the White House reviewed the information - or what they decided to do with it - because she was fired just three days later on Jan. 30 for refusing to enforce Trump's immigration ban.

Yates told senators she would have been concerned if the White House had done nothing with the information she had provided. 
Flynn remained on the White House payroll for another 18 days - even sitting in on a high-level meetings, including a call between Trump and Russian President Vladmir Putin - after Yates first sounded the warning. He was dismissed only after the Washington Post revealed that Flynn had discussed sanctions against Russia - leveled by Obama in the wake of the nation-state's interference in the presidential election - with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Yates's testimony raised questions as to how the White House handled the Flynn affair. NBC News reported Monday evening that Flynn did not complete his security clearance form before his February resignation.

Yates deftly fielded questions from GOP senators who focused on how information was leaked to the press and Democrats trained on Russia's interference in the election and the White House's handling of the Flynn affair. When questioned, Clapper said he'd not seen evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russia. Yates demurred, citing sensitive information. 

In a series of tweets after the hearing, Trump crowed that "Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today --- she said nothing but old news!"

And he tweeted that "'Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is "no evidence" of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.'" Despite clear claims by the intelligence community, Trump has expressed skepticism as to whether Russia ran interference in the election.

But during his testimony, Clapper made it clear that Russia had sought to disrupt the election and sway the outcome, hacking into both Democratic and Republican interests, but releasing only information damaging to Hillary Clinton. "The Russians used cyber operations against both political parties, including hacking into servers used by the Democratic National Committee and releasing stolen data to WikiLeaks and other media outlets. Russia also collected on certain Republican Party-affiliated targets, but did not release any Republican-related data," he said. "The Intelligence Community Assessment concluded first that President Putin directed and influenced campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process. Second, that he did so to demean Secretary Clinton, and third, that he sought to advantage Mr. Trump. These conclusions were reached based on the richness of the information gathered and analyzed and were thoroughly vetted and then approved by the directors of the three agencies and me." 

Clapper stressed the importance of investigating election interference. Noting that Russia is "now emboldened to continue such activities in the future, both here and around the world, and to do so even more intensely," he said, "If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it.”

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