WASHINGTON ― After blaming former President Barack Obama on Monday for the hire of Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Donald Trump’s White House on Tuesday worked to diminish the former acting attorney general who sounded the alarm on Flynn’s contacts with Russians.
“Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads-up about something and says, ‘I want to share some information,’ doesn’t mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action,” Spicer said. “I think if you flip this scenario and say, ‘What if we had 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 matter.”
Asked how he knew Yates was a Clinton supporter, Spicer said: “She was widely rumored to play a large role in the Justice Department if Hillary Clinton had won.”
Spicer also repeatedly referred to Yates’ warning as “a heads up” about Flynn – a less urgent description than the one Yates outlined in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.
Yates told senators she took her concerns about Flynn to White House Counsel Don McGahn on Jan. 26, warning that Flynn’s false statements regarding his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak made him susceptible to blackmail by the Russians.
“To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” Yates testified. “The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that Gen. Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself.”
During the transition, Flynn spoke with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, multiple times, including discussions about the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia that were imposed because of the invasion and occupation of Crimea.
Flynn remained in his role as Trump’s top national security aide for another three weeks, participating in an hour-long phone call between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It was only after The Washington Post revealed Yates’ warning that Trump finally fired Flynn on Feb. 13.
At the time, the White House said Flynn had been removed because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with Russian officials – even though his statements to Pence were among the falsehoods that Yates had brought to White House attention on Jan. 26.
Trump himself blamed the firing on unfair media coverage. “Michael Flynn, Gen. Flynn, is a wonderful man,” Trump said at a Feb. 15 news conference. “I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.”
Spicer on Tuesday continued to defend Flynn as “a good man,” and said he was not interested in “re-litigating” Flynn’s departure.
“The president took decisive action,” Spicer said. “We looked into this situation, the president made a decision and it was the right decision.”
The U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia worked to hurt Clinton and help Trump during the 2016 election, in part by stealing documents and emails from the Democratic Party and from Clinton’s campaign chairman and then releasing embarrassing ones on a near daily basis in the final weeks of the campaign through WikiLeaks.
Trump praised WikiLeaks for doing this in almost every campaign appearance in October, and for months claimed that it was impossible to know who had stolen the emails.
That Russian meddling, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, is under investigation by the FBI and committees in both House and Senate.