President Donald Trump said one of the reasons why his administration kept national security adviser Michael Flynn on for 18 days after being briefed on his questionable conduct with Russian operatives, Trump said it was because the reports “did not sound like an emergency.”
In an interview with Lester Holt on NBC News on Thursday, Trump laid out why his administration allowed Flynn to maintain his role after White House lawyers were told that Flynn had misled the vice president and senior White House officials: “‘My White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me and it did not sound like an emergency,” Trump said on NBC News.
Trump also mentioned former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who had initially brought up concerns about Flynn — including that because he had misled Trump administration officials and because Russia knew about it, Flynn was potentially at risk of being blackmailed by the Kremlin.
Yates eventually provided testimony of her account on Monday to a Senate subcommittee. Trump said of Yates’ admonishments about Flynn: “She actually didn’t make it sound that way either in the hearings the other day — like it had to be done immediately.”
“This man has served for many years, he’s a general … in my opinion a very good person,” Trump said.
Referring to Yates, a 27-year veteran of the Justice Department, Trump added, “I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don’t even know and immediately run out and fire a general.”
Yates, a holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration, was fired as the acting attorney general after refusing to enforce Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration and refugees in January, shortly after Trump was sworn into office.
“I told them again that there were a number of press accounts of statements that had been made by the vice president and other high-ranking White House officials about Gen. Flynn’s conduct that we knew to be untrue,” said Yates during her hearing on Monday. “And we told them how we knew that this — how we had this information, how we had acquired it and how we knew that it was untrue.”
Holt also contrasted Flynn’s delayed firing to how Trump handled FBI director James Comey’s dismissal on Tuesday, a decision that was ostensibly made in one day, based on the date of letters to Trump from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and attorney general Jeff Sessions.
“I was going to fire Comey,” said Trump. “There’s no good time to do it by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
“But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.”