Former Attorney General Sally Yates told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday during an exclusive interview that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was highly compromised by the Russians.
She stopped short of saying if President Trump should have fired Flynn, who was eventually fired 18 days after Yates had informed the administration about what she knew about the general’s Russian ties.
“I think that this was a serious compromise situation, that the Russians had real leverage,” Yates told Cooper. “He also had lied to the Vice President of the United States. Whether he is fired or not is a decision by the President of the United States to make, but it doesn’t seem like that’s a person who should be sitting in the national security adviser position.”
Yates said she was surprised the administration did not take immediate action after she briefed them.
“There’s certainly a criminal statute that was implicated by his conduct,” Yates said, adding, “We expected the White House to act.”
Instead, Flynn remained in his high-ranking position and even was allowed to be on a call between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Well sure, I was concerned about it,” Yates said. “But I didn’t know if perhaps something else had been done that maybe I just wasn’t aware of. I just didn’t have any way of knowing what was going on at that point.”
When President Trump finally fired Flynn, the White House described the situation as a “trust issue,” and not so much a legal one. That fact was surprising to Yates.
“I don’t know how the White House reached the conclusion that there was no legal issue,” Yates said. “It certainly wasn’t from my discussion with them.”
Trump fired Yates at the end of January for “refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States” after she refused to defend the administration’s initial Muslim travel ban. The White House statement said that Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice.”
She was also suspected by the administration of leaking of a story to The Washington Post about Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, which led to his dismissal. She sternly denied leaking the story.