White House Cites Rumor, Innuendo in Criticizing Sally Yates

Spicer talking points echo Trump, without corresponding evidence

Former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. listens as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Monday. A day later, the White House called her a supporter of Hillary Clinton and a foe of President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. listens as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Monday. A day later, the White House called her a supporter of Hillary Clinton and a foe of President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 9, 2017 at 3:31pm

Updated at 4:35 p.m. The White House on Tuesday tried to discredit former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, suggesting her testimony a day earlier about President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser is tainted because she was a Hillary Clinton supporter, although officials provided no evidence for such a claim. 

Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked again and again about Yates’ assertion to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that she warned White House officials that Trump’s since-fired first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was compromised by Russia. In several responses, Spicer painted Yates, also fired by Trump, as an enemy of the president who was made deputy attorney general by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

He told reporters Yates was “not exactly a supporter of the president’s agenda,” an apparent reference to her firing over ordering the Justice Department to not defend Trump’s initial executive order banning individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. He also labeled her “not exactly someone excited about President Trump.”

But in his most damning attempts to undercut her credibility, Spicer went so far as to call Yates a “strong supporter of Clinton” without offering any evidence. (Her husband once unsuccessfully sought a House seat in Georgia as a Democrat, but Spicer did not bring that up.)

When pressed, Trump’s top spokesman conjured only this in the way of evidence: He said it was “widely rumored” that Yates was a proponent of the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, and expected to have a major role in a Clinton administration.

A White House spokesperson sent a lengthy email minutes after this article initially published online with a subject line of “evidence.” It mostly contained news articles and opinion pieces, some of the former pegged to anonymous sources that Trump and Spicer have harshly news outlets for using.

None, notably, draw a direct line between Yates and Clinton. One news article quotes Georgia Democratic operatives as speculating about the just-fired Yates possibly running for governor. And several opinion pieces are harshly critical of the former acting AG – but mostly for refusing to enforce the travel ban or, in the views of the authors, improperly carrying out the duties of her job, incluing following presidential orders. 

The White House spokesperson’s email does, however, point to Federal Election Commission reports that show Yates’s husband, Comer Yates, donated $3,355 to Obama’s presidential campaigns and lesser amounts to other Democratic candidates.

Spicer’s attacks came a day after Yates told the Senate subcommittee that she had warned the White House that Flynn, also fired by the Obama administration, had misrepresented his contacts with Russian officials and was potentially susceptible to blackmail by Moscow.

Yates testified that she had reached out to and met with White House Counsel Donald McGahn about Flynn, who was fired in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. She met with McGahn on Jan. 26 and delivered a warning.

“We began our meeting telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth,” Yates said. “We told him we were concerned the American people had been misled.”

Russian officials also knew Flynn’s misleading recounts of those conversations were inaccurate.

“That created a compromise situation, where the national security adviser could essentially be blackmailed by the Russians,” she said. “We were giving them all this information so that they could take action.”

Spicer appeared to be following his boss’ lead. On Monday, Trump spent much of the day tweeting about Yates, accusing her, among other things, of leaking classified information, though without presenting any evidence about such a claim:

The president also called ongoing FBI, House and Senate probes of Russia’s alleged election meddling and possible ties to his campaign associates a collective “taxpayer funded charade.”

Notably, Trump’s own White House requested the House and Senate investigations after he took to Twitter on a Saturday morning in March and accused Obama of tapping the phones in Trump Tower. Trump has since repeated the allegation that the 44th president ordered surveillance of him and his campaign associates, again without providing any evidence.