Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Tuesday shot down the White House’s efforts to downplay the severity of her warnings about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“There was nothing casual about this,” Yates said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, reacting to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s assertion that her warning about Flynn’s interactions with Russian representatives was a “heads up.”
“I absolutely did not use the term heads up,” Yates told Cooper. “I called (White House counsel) Don McGahn and told him I had a very sensitive matter I need to discuss with him that day in person.”
The exclusive interview, which aired in its entirety Tuesday evening, was Yates’ first on television since being fired by President Donald Trump. It was taped on Monday morning, prior to an explosive report by The New York Times that Trump had asked ousted FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into Flynn.
Earlier this month, Yates testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism regarding the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, particularly Flynn’s contact with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
Prior to Trump taking office, Flynn had discussed sanctions with the official.
During her testimony she said that, at the end of January, after reading the details of a Flynn interview with the FBI, she had called McGahn and warned him that Trump’s national security adviser could easily become a blackmail target for Russians based on the answers Flynn gave to the FBI.
Responding to a question from Cooper on whether she agreed with the White House line that Flynn was dismissed over a “trust issue” rather than a legal one, she said, “I don’t know how the White House reached the conclusion that there was no legal issue. It certainly wasn’t from my discussion with them.”
She demurs on whether she thought that his contact with Russian officials was a fireable offense.
“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,” she said.
Yates told Cooper that she expected the White House to act urgently on information that she had given the administration that Flynn had been compromised by his contact with Russian officials prior to Trump’s inauguration.
“We expected the White House to act,” she said.
When asked by Cooper if she expected the administration to act quickly, Yates replied, “Yes.”
“There was an urgency to the information?” Cooper clarified.
“Yes,” Yates said.
Flynn remained in his position for 18 days after Yates had informed the administration about her concerns over his conduct.
Yates, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, was fired as acting attorney general at the end of January when she refused to defend the President’s first attempt at a ban on travelers and refugees entering the US from a number of Muslim-majority countries.
She was dismissed for “refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” the White House said at the time.
“(Yates) has betrayed the Department of Justice,” the White House statement said.
Yates also denies that she was behind the leaking of a story to The Washington Post about Flynn’s calls with Kislyak, which led to his dismissal.
“Absolutely not. I did not and I would not leak classified information,” she told Cooper.
She said that she was “concerned” that her information appeared not to be acted upon, but concedes that “something else” might have been done “that maybe I just wasn’t aware of.”
Asked what she thought of a tweet from Trump ahead of her appearance before the Senate committee, seemingly accusing her of leaking the story to the Post, she said that it was just one of “a number of tweets that have given me pause.”
Before she refused to defend the travel ban, Yates said she considered resigning.
“The bottom line is I felt like resigning would have protected my personal integrity, but not the integrity of the Department of Justice,” she said.
Ultimately, she told Cooper, she has no regrets about her decisions during her tenure as acting attorney general.
But Yates said she does not plan on getting into politics, despite rumors that she may run for Georgia governor.