During his White House press briefing today, Sean Spicer was pressed about President Donald Trump’s decision to wait 18 days after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned about Michael Flynn possibly being vulnerable to Russian blackmail to fire him. Spicer repeatedly described Yates’ warnings as “heads up” and said the president continues to defend Flynn because he doesn’t want to “smear a good man.” He also described Yates as “political opponent.”
“Just because someone gives you a heads up about something and says, ‘I want to share some information with you,’ doesn’t mean you immediately jump the gun and go take an action,” Spicer said.
The questions were the first ones Spicer faced today, a day after Yates’ testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, and they came from Kaitlin Collins, the White House correspondent for the right-leaning Daily Caller.
Collins asked point-blank, why the White House waited those 18 days, noting that it looks like the White House wouldn’t have fired Flynn at all if the Washington Post didn’t report that Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of a December phone call with the Russian ambassador.
Yates first met with White House Counsel Don McGahn on January 26, 2017 and met with him again a day later, warning him that Flynn could be compromised by Russian blackmail. However, Flynn wasn’t pushed to resign until February 13, 2017, after the Post’s reporting.
Spicer called Yates’ warnings a “heads up” and repeatedly said that the President made the “right decision” to fire Flynn.
Collins then asked Spicer why the president continues to defend Flynn if he thinks firing him was the right decision. Spicer said that Flynn was asked for his resignation because he misled Pence, not because of his communications with the Russians. He frequently pointed to Flynn’s “honorable” and distinguished military career. “The President does not want to smear a good man,” Spicer said.
Then, Collins asked if Flynn was still doing his duties as National Security Adviser, even though the White House was aware of Yates’ warnings.
Rather than answering the yes-or-no question, he told Collins to look where the information is coming from, characterizing Yates as “someone who is not exactly a supporter of the president’s agenda.” He also called her a “political opponent of the president,” saying that the administration couldn’t just “jump the gun” and fire Flynn based only on what Yates told them. He called Yates a “strong supporter of Clinton.”
Spicer also said that he wasn’t aware of any security restrictions placed on Flynn during the 18-day period.
In her testimony, Yates characterized her meetings with McGahn as more than just a heads up. She said that the information she gave the White House should have been clear enough to make them take action. “The purpose in our telling them again was so that they could act and so that they could convey that information. So I would hope that they did,” Yates said.