On Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates gave her long-awaited testimony to the Senate. Yates inadvertently became a hero to progressives for refusing to defend President Trump's travel ban in court, and later emerged as a key figure in the ongoing controversy surrounding Trump's former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.
Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February after it was revealed that, contrary to his earlier claims, he had apparently discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Russia's ambassador prior to Trump's inauguration. Shortly thereafter, The Washington Post reported that Yates, during her short time as acting Attorney General, had written a letter to the White House informing them that Flynn had inaccurately represented the nature of his communications with the Russians — and furthermore, that Flynn might be susceptible to blackmail by the Russian government.
Despite her swift ascent from obscurity to national prominence, Yates hadn't spoken publicly about any of this until her testimony Monday. She'd been scheduled to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee in March, but that testimony was abruptly canceled by Rep. Devin Nunes. The California Republican was chair of the committee, but has since recused himself from the investigation.
Sally Yates on Gen. Flynn: "The National Security Adviser, essentially, could be blackmailed by the Russians." pic.twitter.com/2H5MhlokxK— CSPAN (@cspan) May 8, 2017
On Monday, Yates confirmed that she'd warned the White House about Flynn. "General Flynn was compromised in regard to the Russians," Yates told the Senate committee. "To state the obvious, you don't want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians." She added that "the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself," and expressed concern that "the American people had been misled" as to Flynn's conduct.
Prior to Flynn's resignation, on the Jan. 15 episode of Face The Nation, Vice President Mike Pence claimed that Flynn didn't discuss sanctions with Russia prior to Trump's inauguration.
Yates said that this also caused her concern, as she knew that this was not true — and so, reportedly, did Russia. "We weren't the only ones that knew all of this," she continued.
Yates was also questioned, primarily by Republicans, about her decision not to enforce Trump's travel ban, which ultimately resulted in Trump firing her.
"I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful," Yates told Texas Sen. John Cornyn. "I also thought that it was inconsistent with principles of the Department of Justice and I said no. And that's what I promised you I would do [at my confirmation hearing] and that's what I did."
"I don't know how you can say that it was lawful and say that it was within your prerogative to refuse to defend it in a court of law and leave it to the court to decide," Cornyn responded.
"Senator, I did not say it was lawful," Yates replied. "I said it was unlawful."