WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump didn’t act immediately on a warning about Michael Flynn from Sally Yates in part because she was viewed as a “political opponent,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.
Eighteen days passed between a Yates’ second meeting telling the White House that Flynn, then the national security adviser, “could be blackmailed” by Russia and his ouster.
Spicer defended the gap as a combination of wait time for Justice Department evidence on Flynn’s conduct, due process and suspicions about Yates’ political motivations.
He indicated Trump has not accepted her finding that Flynn may have been compromised, calling it “a little premature.”
Yates was the acting attorney general, a holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration.
Spicer said she was a supporter of Hillary Clinton but, asked why he believes so, added that it had been “widely rumored” Yates would benefit from a Clinton win.
“Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads-up about something . . . doesn’t mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action,” Spicer said. “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 manner.”
Yates testified Monday before a Senate panel that she had delivered urgent messages to White House counsel Donald McGahn about Flynn as a potential blackmail target.
News outlets previously reported that Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions with a Russian ambassador before Trump took office.
Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, citing broken trust over Flynn’s misleading of Pence on his conversations with the ambassador.
Yates was fired Jan. 30 for refusing to back the travel ban that she said was unlawful.
Trump continues to defend Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, because he “served with distinction in uniform,” Spicer said. “The president does not want to smear a good man.”
Also Tuesday, Spicer said Trump was cooperating with a request by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for assurance that the president has no conflicts of interest with Moscow.
“He has no business in Russia. He has no connections to Russia, so he welcomes that,” Spicer said.
Trump has charged a Washington, D.C. law firm to send a certified letter to Graham confirming the lack of ties, Spicer said.
Asked separately about the prospect of additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan and what it would mean for the war on the Islamic State and Trump’s “America first” pledge to his base, Spicer downplayed the options on the table.
“Let’s not get ahead of what that ultimate policy will be,” he said.
With Tom Brune