White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the administration’s decision to wait nearly three weeks to fire former national-security adviser Michael Flynn after being warned by the Justice Department that he could be susceptible to Russian blackmail, telling reporters on Tuesday that he thinks “the process worked.”
“I think the process worked, frankly, when you think of the time in which we had the information,” Spicer said during the press briefing.
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday that she first warned the White House about Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, on January 26 so that the Trump administration “could take action” amid concerns Flynn could have been subject to blackmail by the Russians.
“Sally Yates came here on the 26th of January,” Spicer said. “Then she informed the counsel’s office that there were materials that were relevant to the situation. It wasn’t ’til about seven days later that they had access to those documents.”
But Yates told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that she called White House Counsel Don McGahn on January 30 — four days after first warning McGahn and hours before she was fired by Trump for refusing to enforce his first immigration order — to tell him that he could come over to the DOJ to review the details of Flynn’s communication with Kislyak.
Yates told Democratic Sen. Chris Coons that, in the course of the meetings, “Mr. McGahn demonstrated that he understood that this was serious.” But she said she didn’t know if the White House took any additional steps to restrict Flynn’s access to sensitive or classified information.
“If they didn’t take any action, that would certainly be concerning,” Yates said.
Spicer said that after Yates informed them of Flynn’s conduct, McGahn and his associate “reviewed the situation” and “informed the president right away.”
Trump, however, said in a press conference three days after Flynn resigned that when he looked at the information provided to him about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, “I said, ‘I don’t think he did anything wrong; if anything, he did something right.'”
He added that Flynn was fired because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the calls — not because the calls themselves were inappropriate.
In any case, Yates characterised her disclosures to McGahn about Flynn as warnings about a “highly sensitive” matter — not a “heads up,” as Spicer described it. Spicer went on to call Yates a “political opponent of the president.”
“I think if you flip this scenario and say, ‘what if we just dismissed somebody because a political opponent of the president had made an utterance,’ you would argue that it was pretty irrational to act in that manner,” Spicer added. “We did what we were supposed to do.”
Spicer also addressed questions about Sen. Lindsey Graham’s intimation after the hearing ended that he would be interested in digging further into Trump’s business ties to Russia — an issue that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that he could not discuss at Monday’s hearing because it “impacts the investigation” into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Spicer said that Trump “welcomes” any inquiries into his business ties to Russia because the president “has no connections” there. He added that Trump is going to ask a Washington, DC-based law firm to send a certified letter to Graham to prove that he has no financial conflicts of interest in Russia.
More from Natasha Bertrand:
- James Clapper gave an intriguing answer when asked about Trump’s business ties to Russia
- Republicans and Democrats basically held 2 separate hearings with Sally Yates and James Clapper
- ‘He could be blackmailed by the Russians’: Sally Yates explains why she warned the White House about Michael Flynn
- Sally Yates and James Clapper testify before the Senate about Michael Flynn and Russia
- Sally Yates is set to give bombshell testimony about Michael Flynn and Russia — here’s what to expect
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