Sally Yates, the acting attorney general fired by Donald Trump in January after refusing to enforce the president’s controversial travel ban, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism on Monday. The hearing was ostensibly called to investigate Russia’s attempts to interfere in the election, but Republican senators – and the president – unwisely attempted to make it a referendum on Yates’ decision on the travel ban and the ongoing media leaks.
“Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel,” Trump tweeted hours before she was set to testify – “witness intimidation,” one CNN anchor called it. (The tweet was later deleted.)
In between explaining the parameters of her job to Sen. John Cornyn and how the Constitution works to Ted Cruz, Yates delivered a detailed a timeline of what, exactly, the White House knew about Gen. Michael Flynn’s conversation with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and when. Here is the timeline that emerged, starting in the days after Trump’s November election victory.
November 10th: President-elect Trump meets with President Obama in the Oval Office. During their hour-and-a-half meeting, Obama expresses deep concerns about Flynn, whom he fired as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and cautions Trump against hiring him.
December 29th: Obama announces he has expelled 35 Russian diplomats and imposed a slate of new sanctions on Russia for interfering in the U.S. election. The same day, Flynn speaks to Kislyak multiple times by phone.
January 12th: The Washington Post, citing a senior U.S. government official, reports the conversations between Flynn and Kislyak.
January 15th: Vice President Mike Pence appears on Face the Nation, where he answers questions his about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador. “I talked to Gen. Flynn about that conversation,” Pence tells host John Dickerson. “[It] was initiated on Christmas Day; he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.” The conversations took place, Pence confirms, but he reiterates they “had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”
January 20th: Trump is sworn in as president.
January 23rd: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is asked about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak during a press briefing. He, like Pence, denies they discussed sanctions and says only one call took place during the transition, adding that a second took place on Inauguration Day. “There’s been one call. I talked to Gen. Flynn about this again last night. One call, talked about four subjects. One was the loss of life that occurred in the plane crash that took their military choir, two was Christmas and holiday greetings, three was to talk about a conference in Syria on ISIS and four was to talk about, after the inauguration, setting up a call between President Putin and President Trump.” Spicer adds, “During the transition, I asked Gen. Flynn that – whether or not there were any other conversations beyond the ambassador and he said no.”
January 24th: FBI agents interview Flynn at the White House. Fynn, as Yates revealed Monday, does not have a lawyer present during questioning.
January 25th: Yates is briefed on the interview by the agents who conducted it.
January 26th: Yates requests a meeting with White House counsel Don McGahn; it takes place in his office that afternoon. Yates recalled in her testimony this week, “I told them again that there were a number of press accounts of statements that had been made by the vice president and other high-ranking White House officials about Gen. Flynn’s conduct that we knew to be untrue. And we told them how we knew that this – how we had this information, how we had acquired it and how we knew that it was untrue.” She went on to inform him that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI two days prior. “Mr. McGahn asked me how he did, and I declined to give him an answer to that,” Yates said.
“We told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn’t true. And we wanted to make it really clear right out of the gate that we were not accusing Vice President Pence of knowingly providing false information to the American people.”
In addition to misleading the American people, Yates said she told McGahn that she and her colleagues at the Justice Department were particularly concerned the Russians were aware that Flynn had misled the vice president and other officials about the conversations, and that they could potentially use that information as blackmail against him. “Finally, we told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate,” Yates said. “I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not Gen. Flynn should be fired, and I told him that that really wasn’t our call, that was up to them, but that we were giving them this information so that they could take action.”
January 27th: Yates returns to Don McGahn’s office at his request. “One of the questions that Mr. McGahn asked me when I went back over the second day was, essentially, ‘Why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another White House official?'” Yates recalled. “And so we explained to him, it was a whole lot more than that, and went back over the same concerns that we had raised with them the prior day, that the concern first about the underlying conduct itself, that he had lied to the vice president and others, the American public had been misled.
“And then, importantly, that every time this lie was repeated and the misrepresentations were getting more and more specific as they were coming out. Every time that happened, it increased the compromise and to state the obvious, you don’t want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians,” she added.
They discuss the applicability of certain criminal statutes, and McGahn wonders if the White House taking action against Flynn could interfere with FBI investigation against him. “I remember specifically saying, you know it wouldn’t really be fair of us to tell you this and then expect you to sit on your hands,” Yates said Monday. He also asks to see the evidence against Flynn.
During the meeting, McGahn, the White House counsel, does not mention to Yates, the acting attorney general, the travel ban Trump will sign that day. Yates, as she testified on Monday, learns about the ban after it’s signed, through media reports.
January 29th: As protests against the travel ban erupt at airports around the country, Trump has his first phone call with Putin. Flynn sits in on the call, along with Pence, Spicer and chief of staff Reince Priebus.
January 30th: Yates calls McGhan to let him know he could review the underlying evidence against Flynn. Later that day, she announces that the Department of Justice will not enforce Trump’s travel ban. She is fired that night.
February 9th: Mike Pence learns for the first time, according to media reports, that Flynn misled him about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
February 10th: Asked about the reports Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak, Trump replies, “I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen it,” and promises he’ll “look into” the matter.
February 13th: Michael Flynn resigns.