White House defends 18-day delay in firing of Michael Flynn – The Hill

The White House on Tuesday defended its delay in firing national security adviser Michael Flynn, a move that was made 18 days after then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates first warned administration officials that he could be compromised by the Russian government.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said officials did not want to “jump the gun” on ousting Flynn based on information from Yates because she is a “political opponent” of President Trump.

“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 manner,” Spicer said. “We did what we were supposed to do.”

He dismissed Yates as “someone who is not exactly a supporter of the president’s agenda,” citing her refusal to defend Trump’s original travel ban in court — the decision that ultimately led to her firing on Jan. 30.  

The White House was put on the defensive by Yates’s dramatic testimony Monday to a Senate panel, her first public remarks since Trump fired her from the Justice Department. Yates testified that she believed Flynn was susceptible to blackmail after misleading Vice President Pence and others about his discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. 

Yates said she informed White House counsel Don McGahn of her determination on Jan. 26, four days before her firing, but Trump waited more than two weeks before asking for Flynn’s resignation.

More than two months after his ouster, Flynn has continued to inflict damage on a White House looking to move past questions about whether associates of the president cooperated with Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

The renewed focus on the former national security adviser has blunted the momentum for Trump generated by the House’s passage last week of an ObamaCare repeal bill.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamWhite House defends 18-day delay in firing of Michael Flynn Five takeaways from Yates’s dramatic Senate testimony Overnight Cybersecurity: Flynn drama intensifies after Yates testimony | Five key players for Trump on cyber | Macron wins despite email hack | Concerns over data reporting law MORE (R-S.C.) added fuel to the fire Tuesday by requesting information on Trump’s business ties to Russia as part of a Senate investigation. Graham told CNN his interest was piqued by a vague answer on the subject given by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who testified alongside Yates at Monday’s hearing. 

Spicer said Trump “welcomes” that inquiry and said the president has asked a Washington, D.C., law firm to send a certified letter to Graham saying “that he has no connections to Russia.” 

“He has no business in Russia. He has no connections to Russia. So he welcomes that,” the spokesman said.

Despite the headaches caused by Flynn, the White House has continued to defend him. 

The former Defense Intelligence Agency director formed a close bond with Trump during the 2016 campaign, and it is evident the president still holds him in high regard.

Spicer repeatedly downplayed Yates’s warning about Flynn being compromised as a mere “heads-up.” He said the White House took the matter seriously but also wanted to make sure Flynn was afforded an “element of due process.” 

“He served with distinction in uniform for over 30 years, and the president does not want to smear a good man,” Spicer said. 

Yates described her discussion with McGahn much differently.

“To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised by the Russians,” Yates told senators Monday. 

But Spicer sought to undercut Yates’s credibility by calling her “a strong supporter” of Trump’s 2016 opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFBI corrects Comey testimony Trump should be commended for reaching out to U.S. adversaries White House defends 18-day delay in firing of Michael Flynn MORE

Yates was appointed deputy attorney general in 2015 by former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaOvernight Regulation: Senate confirms Trump pick for FDA Senate confirms Trump’s FDA pick Chelsea Manning set for prison release next week MORE but did not endorse Clinton or take any public stance on the race, as is standard practice for senior Justice Department officials.  

When asked for evidence to back up his assertion, Spicer said Yates was “widely rumored to play a large role” in Clinton’s Justice Department had she won the election. 

Spicer’s comments drew criticism from Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for Obama’s first attorney general, Eric HolderEric H. HolderWhite House defends 18-day delay in firing of Michael Flynn The press survived Obama’s persecution, and it will survive Trump’s mean words Holder: Trump’s first 100 days full of ‘chaos, carnage’ MORE.  

“He’s lying. She offered no endorsement, took no position in the 2016 election, and couldn’t have under [Justice Department] rules,” he tweeted. “It wasn’t just Yates that warned the White House about Flynn. She brought a senior career official with her. This is weak sauce from Spicer.”

Yates served under Republican and Democratic presidents as a career official at the Justice Department. 

The Georgia native was first hired in the 1980s by Bob Barr, then an assistant U.S. attorney who went on to serve in Congress as a Republican. She eventually became first assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Georgia during the George W. Bush administration before Obama tapped her as U.S. attorney there in 2010. 

Democrats praised Yates’s performance during Monday’s hearing. 

“Perfect,” Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinWhite House defends 18-day delay in firing of Michael Flynn Durbin on Afghanistan: ‘When does it become a permanent occupation?’ Live coverage: Sally Yates testifies before Senate Judiciary panel MORE (D-Ill.) said Tuesday when asked about Yates’s testimony. 

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharWhite House defends 18-day delay in firing of Michael Flynn Dems request insider trading investigation into top Trump adviser Dem senator: Yates ‘clearly got the best of’ Cruz MORE (D-Minn.) said Yates “got the best” of Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzFBI corrects Comey testimony White House defends 18-day delay in firing of Michael Flynn Maxine Waters: Cornyn, Cruz ‘no match’ for Yates MORE (R-Texas) during an exchange over her decision not to defend Trump’s original travel ban.

“She was just really amazing. She was so prepared, and I especially enjoyed her exchange with Sen. Cruz,” Klobuchar said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“She clearly got the best of him in explaining what happened the day that she was basically fired from the Justice Department.” 

This story was updated at 5 p.m. Katie Bo Williams contributed. 

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