Like other government officials unceremoniously fired by the Trump administration for insubordination, former acting attorney general Sally Yates is not slinking away in silence.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that aired Tuesday night, Yates shot down several key talking points the White House has used to diffuse her bombshell testimony last week before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the concerns she’d raised about former national security adviser Mike Flynn.
“I absolutely did not use the term ‘heads up,’” Yates told Cooper, referencing the January meeting in which she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was “compromised with respect to the Russians.”
“There was nothing casual about this,” she added.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has maintained that Yates merely informed McGahn in the Jan. 26 meeting that Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials were going on the record with comments about Flynn’s contacts with Russia that she said she knew were untrue. Spicer also alleged that McGahn called Yates back into his office for a second conversation on Jan. 27 because she’d been insufficiently clear about her concerns, going on to smear her as a “political opponent of the President.”
As she did in her Senate testimony, Yates, a 27-year veteran of the Justice Department, told Cooper that she conveyed a sense of urgency in her conversation with McGahn and warned him that the Russians knew about Flynn’s “underlying conduct.”
“When you call the White House counsel and say you have to meet with them that day about something you can’t talk about on the phone and you tell them that their national security adviser may be able to be blackmailed by the Russians, I’m not sure how much more of a siren do you need to sound,” Yates told CNN.
The White House has also partially blamed Yates for the 18-day delay between her initial warning and Flynn’s firing on Feb. 13, saying they needed time to conduct an internal review using the underlying FBI evidence that allowed Yates to come to her own determination about Flynn.
Yates testified that she informed McGahn in a Jan. 30 phone call that the FBI had approved his request to review the underlying evidence regarding Flynn. Spicer then said in a press conference that “the White House didn’t get access” to that information until Feb. 2, and thus their full review began only then.
Yates dismissed that explanation in her conversation with CNN.
“They could have looked at it sooner?” Cooper asked.
“It was ready on Monday the 30th,” Yates said, saying she “absolutely” wanted the White House to act to avoid compromising the United States’ national security.
“We had made arrangements over the weekend. That was one of the other issues that he raised in the second meeting was whether they could look at the underlying evidence that established General Flynn’s conduct,” she added, referring to McGahn. “This is really unusual for us or for the FBI to allow that.”
“Because there is an ongoing investigation?” Cooper pressed.
“Right,” Yates said. “This was really important.”