Russia-Trump scandal grows after Yates testimony

Mike Maguire / Flickr trump russia poster...
Mike Maguire / Flickr

We begin today’s roundup with Stephen Collinson at CNN and his analysis of yesterday’s testimony by fired Attorney General Sally Yates:

In her long-awaited first public accounting of her dealings with the Trump administration, Yates testified that she explicitly warned White House counsel Donald McGahn in January that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had been compromised and could be a target for Russian blackmail.

Her intervention provoked an awkward new question that the White House will now have to answer. Why did it then take 18 days for Flynn to be fired — a step that only took place when The Washington Post reported he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his calls with Russia’s envoy to Washington?

Tim Mak at The Daily Beast:

Ultimately, the White House dismissed Yates before dismissing Flynn. Two and a half weeks transpired between the White House’s notification of Flynn’s compromised position and Flynn’s firing. “Many years ago, an 18-minute gap transfixed the country and got everybody’s attention in another investigation,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, referring to the 18 minute gap in President Nixon’s White House tapes. “In this case, we have an 18-day gap between the notification of the White House that a senior official had potentially been compromised and action taken against that senior official… At best, the Trump administration has displayed serious errors of judgment, at worst, these irregularities may reflect… corruption at the hands of Russian intelligence.”

Robert Schlesinger wonders why Trump remains so steadfastly loyal to Flynn:

So why does Trump – who has historically displayed a rather fluid notion of personal loyalty – stick with Flynn? Axios’ Swann lays out three reasons: That Trump sees Flynn as “a good man who served his country admirably,” that the entirety of the Russia investigation is “fake news” and that Flynn had gotten his security clearance under Obama. (Never mind that he was warned when forced into retirement not to accept money from foreign governments.) Given Trump’s weird admixture of ignorance, instability and impenetrable opacity (see his tax returns – or, rather, don’t see them) it’s impossible to say where his own actual beliefs end and his bullshit begins, if such a line even exists. Maybe it’s just what Axios says; maybe it’s an instinctive attempt to keep a potentially damaging former ally on at least somewhat friendly terms; maybe it’s something else entirely or some combination.

David Graham at The Atlantic dives into Trump’s lame attempts to blame Obama for Flynn:

This is not the first time that Trump has sought to pin the blame for the Flynn fiasco on his predecessor. The argument, and his evidence for it, has not gotten any stronger with time. But it looks especially weak after a series of reports that President Obama specifically warned Trump not to choose Flynn for the post of national security adviser. […]

Even if that background check was insufficiently detailed, the fact that the Obama administration approved security clearance still has little bearing on Trump’s decision to make Flynn his national security adviser. As of 2013, 1.4 million people had top-secret clearance. Most of those people will not, and probably should not, ever be national security adviser. To obtain that job, one of the most important White House positions and a key element in the national security apparatus, one would expect that a candidate would be required to undergo extensive vetting—especially from a president who has emphasized national security and promised “extreme vetting” of prospective entrants to the country.

Here’s Dana Milbank’s take:

Yates, a career prosecutor until Barack Obama tapped her to be the No. 2 at the Justice Department, recalled the questions the White House counsel had about Flynn: Why did DOJ care? Would DOJ pursue a criminal case? Wouldn’t taking action against Flynn interfere with an investigation? And could he see the evidence?

After those skeptical questions, Trump took no visible action against Flynn until a public outcry forced him to. You don’t have to be Tom Clancy to wonder why.

Margaret Carlson calls Yates an “early hero of the Trump era”:

Lying in the White House is so common it’s not worth mentioning. Honesty may be the best policy elsewhere, but not in the Oval Office. There was nothing else in the hearing quite as stunning as the top lawyer in the White House telling the top lawyer in the Justice Department that lying in the White House was none of her business. But it was also pretty eye-popping that at Monday’s subcommittee hearing on the Russian hacking of the 2016 election, Yates said, “We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” and that “logic would tell you that you don’t want the national security adviser to be in a position where the Russians have leverage over him.” […]

Yates became acting AG when Loretta Lynch stepped down after the inauguration. She held the job for only 10 days before being fired. A few years ago, Yates told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that given that her grandmother became a lawyer when it was nearly impossible, “I thought to myself that, if she did that, how hard could it be for me?”

Now she knows. And there may be more character assassination to come. The White House never stepped up and fired Flynn. That would look like a mistake was made. His resignation was “accepted,” and only after 18 days, during which Flynn conducted highly sensitive meetings, was privy to classified information, and joined the president on a call with Putin. Yates’ firing was quick and dirty. That tells us a lot about how the White House rolls.

Turning to another big story of the week, Norman Eisen and Noah Bookbinder explain why the Kushners must recuse themselves from China policy:

The implications were unmistakable; one Chinese investor who attended told a reporter that the Kushners’ proximity to the president was a key part of the project’s appeal.

This sales pitch is clearly unacceptable. The family business should not benefit from Jared Kushner’s name and position as assistant to the president. Moreover, while it’s not clear whether Kushner had any knowledge of or involvement in this conduct, he retains a financial interest in many family businesses. Thus, he stands to benefit when the company trades on his name. Kushner’s lawyers assert that he sold his interests in this particular project to a trust of which he is not a beneficiary — although we know of no reason he couldn’t be reinstated as a beneficiary in the future.

And, on a final note, here’s The New York Times on the Kushners and their “golden visas”:

The Kushner family has been caught in a shameless act of name-dropping. It has been highlighting its White House connections to entice wealthy Chinese investors and promising them green cards in return under a special government visa program. That’s pretty bad. But it’s also a scandal that Congress allows real estate developers to use the American immigration system to pad their profits. […]

Mr. Trump made restricting immigration, including for refugees fleeing violence, a central plank of his campaign. Yet, he seems O.K. with letting real estate moguls take advantage of a program that sells green cards. In this administration, the interests of the first family and its rich and powerful friends come first.

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