WHITE HOUSE —
President Donald Trump’s press secretary found himself on the defensive Tuesday, a day after the former acting attorney general testified she had informed the White House in late January that then national security advisor Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
Sally Yates is “a political opponent of the president,” is how White House spokesman Sean Spicer characterized the former Justice Department career official.
Spicer further labeled Yates an “Obama appointee,” up for a top position if Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the presidential election, strongly hinting that her two visits to the White House were politically motivated.
“You have someone who you have to wonder why they’re telling you something to the point where they had to come back a second time because what they were saying was unclear,” Spicer told reporters who peppered him with questions about the White House’s handling of Flynn.
Yates informed a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday that her intent was to warn White House counsel Donald McGahn that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about discussions Flynn had held with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“We wanted to tell the White House as quickly as possible…You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”
Flynn, who was removed by President Barack Obama in 2014 as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was fired by Trump 18 days after Yates’ warning, following public revelations about his false statements.
“The process worked frankly when you think of the time in which we had the information to make the decision the president made,” Spicer told reporters who asked him repeated questions about the subject during Tuesday’s briefing.
The president has continued to defend Flynn and attack Yates on social media, while calling alleged collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia “a hoax.”
Prior to Monday’s hearing in the Senate, Trump on Twitter wrote: “Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.”
After Yates’ testimony, the president took to Twitter again saying: “Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy – she said nothing but old news.”
Yates was removed by the White House as acting attorney general on January 30 after instructing the Justice Department not to enforce the president’s controversial executive order banning entry into the United States by those from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“We were correct in the assumptions [about Yates] that we made at the time,” said Spicer.
Her defiance of the president and her ouster put Yates into the spotlight. Until then she had been a government lawyer who toiled in relative obscurity for most of her 27-year career in the Justice Department.
As the U.S. attorney in the state of Georgia she successfully prosecuted Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph (he received a life sentence) and led a bribery investigation which sent Atlanta politicians to jail, including the city’s Democratic mayor, Bill Campbell.
Yates, who has been generally mum about her political views, earned bipartisan praise two years ago when she was easily confirmed by the Senate as deputy attorney general of the United States.
Now there are calls among Democrats in her home state of Georgia for Yates to become a candidate, possibly for governor next year.
Yates has given no indication she has any interest in running for public office.