Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
May 13th 2017
Some random thoughts during the first few hours after the director of the FBI was summarily fired by the President of the United States.
-When President Trump fires James Comey who is conducting a counter-intelligence investigation into the president’s possible collusion with the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, he bears out my greatest fears - he is a president demonstrably authoritarian, amoral and anti-democratic.
-Trump’s effort to justify this action by getting the Attorney General and his new deputy to claim it’s because of Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails last year is pathetic and preposterous.
-I am not a big fan of Comey but he was independent and did not deserve to be so shabbily treated.
-Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says Trump is “Nixonian.” Indeed, this incident recalls the Saturday Night Massacre in1973 when Nixon fired both his Attorney General and then his Deputy when they refused to fire Archibald Cox who was conducting the investigation into Nixon’s complicity in the Watergate cover-up. Nixon wanted the investigation quashed but neither the people nor the Congress would allow that to happen- and Nixon was ultimately forced to resign in the face of impeachment.
-I have no doubt that the reason behind Comey’s firing is that Trump wants to quash the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election with the possible collusion of the Trump administration. Firing Comey is a clear sign of a cover-up. Will the people, the news media and the Congress allow that to happen? I hope not but it’s too soon to know.
Meantime there is an important story to tell about an American patriot also victimized by Trump’s effort to eliminate anyone he sees as a threat.
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, testified this past week before a Senate Judiciary sub-committee to explain why she made an urgent visit to the White House in late January to discuss the activities of General Michael Flynn who had just become National Security advisor. At issue was what Flynn actually said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislack.
As we know, Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pense, who recounted on CBS’ Face the Nation, that Flynn had not discussed American sanctions when he talked to the Russians, at the very time President Barack Obama was imposing new sanctions on Russia and expelling some Russian spies. But the NSA routinely bugs the Russian embassy in Washington and Ms. Yates, as acting Attorney General knew from intelligence agency transcripts that Flynn was lying. He had discussed sanctions. Precisely what was discussed remains classified but we do know President Vladimir Putin did not retaliate against American diplomats in Moscow – and that was unusual. It has been widely speculated that Flynn told the Russian’s that once Trump was inaugurated things will be different, but there is as yet, no information in the public domain to support this.
According to Ms. Yates’ testimony, White House Legal Counsel Donald McGahn asked her why she cared about who is lying to whom in the White House, This was part of her response.
“… you have a very sensitive position like National Security advisor and you don’t want that person to be in a position where the Russian’s have leverage over them.” (In other words, Flynn could be blackmailed by the Russians for being caught lying about something they could prove was a lie.)
Yates went on “But I will also say that another motivating factor is we felt like the vice president was entitled to know that the information he had been given and was relaying to the American public, wasn’t true.”
Sally Yates was cool, sharp and totally credible for an entire afternoon of often hostile grilling by Republican senators who are buying Trump’s view that the so-called Russian scandal is a hoax and the only crimes that have been committed are by those who leaked classified materials which make him look bad.
To this end, Senator Chuck Grassley(R-IA) dutifully followed a Trump tweet suggestion sent out the morning of the hearing, that Ms. Yates be asked under oath if she or anyone she knew had leaked the information to the Washington Post which contained the first public account of her visit to the White House to deliver the warnings about Flynn. She might have been resentful of the question. She simply said “No.”
While the White House would have us believe that Yates was an Obama mole in the D.O.J., in fact she is a nearly thirty- year career prosecutor who got her first break from a conservative Georgia senator. She moved up in the ranks under both Republican and Democratic administrations because she was apolitical and was very good at her job. That was evident as she skillfully fended off her critics, such as Senator John Cronyn (R-Tex). He lamented that while he had once voted to confirm her as assistant Attorney General, “I find it enormously disappointing that you somehow vetoed the decision of the Office of Legal Counsel with regard to the lawfulness of the president’s order. (Trump’s first Muslim Ban executive order, which Yates decided as acting Attorney General the D.O.J would not defend in Court.)
Yates well remembered her earlier confirmation and then reminded the senator, “You specifically asked me at that hearing that if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional…..would I say no? That’s what I said I would do and that’s what I did.”
Several courts which ruled on Trump’s first Muslim ban executive order agreed with her. Nevertheless she was fired for her action. However given what happened to Comey, it now seems plausible she was fired to keep her quiet about the Flynn case,
In any event, because she was terminated, one issue former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates could not explain is why, in spite of what she told the White House about Flynn, eighteen days transpired before he got the axe. And that only happened because of the Washington Post story about Yates' secret White House visits, evidently based on a national security leak. It’s hard not to wonder that if there had been no such leak, we might still have General Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser.
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