Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night in her first televised interview since being fired by President Donald Trump on January 31.
Cooper said Yates agreed to the interview to “set the record straight” and the 30-minute conversation consisted of largely of Yates disputing the White House on its characterization of her brief tenure in the Trump administration, the warnings she delivered about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and the president’s travel ban.
Here’s a run-down of the areas where she and the administration disagree:
1. On whether former FBI director James Comey is a “grandstander”
Yates’s interview was taped after Trump fired FBI director James Comey but before news reports—which the White House denies—that the president had asked Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation of Flynn. Cooper asked Yates, who as acting attorney general had served as Comey’s boss, whether she agreed with Trump’s characterization of Comey as a “showboat” and “a grandstander.”
“No,” she said, “I think Jim would speak his mind. Some would call that showboating, but Jim would speak his mind.”
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2. On the nature of Yates’s warning about Flynn
In early January, the Department of Justice learned of conduct by Flynn that made him vulnerable to Russian blackmailing: that Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador. Yates raised the issue in a meeting with White House counsel Don McGahn on January 26. Eighteen days would pass before Flynn exited his post. In defending the timing of Flynn’s departure, Press Secretary Sean Spicer characterized Yates’s warning as a “heads up.”
“I absolutely did not use the the term ‘heads up.’ There was nothing casual about this,” Yates told Cooper.
Trump echoed Spicer’s characterization of Yates’s warning in an interview last week with NBC’s Lester Holt, stating: “[McGahn] came back to me and [it] did not sound like an emergency…and [Yates] actually didn’t make it sound that way either in the [Senate subcommittee] hearings the other day; that it had to be done immediately.”
Yates says that she wasn’t present for McGahn’s meeting with Trump, but that she “conveyed a sense of urgency” when she met with McGahn.
“When you call the White House counsel and say you have got to meet with them that day about something you can’t talk about on the phone, and you tell them that their national security adviser may be able to be blackmailed by the Russians, and that you’re giving them this information so that they’ll take action, I’m not sure how much more of a siren you have to sound,” she said.
4. The reason why Yates held a second meeting with McGahn
Spicer told the White House press corps that McGahn met with Yates a second time to discuss issues left unclear during their first sit-down. But Yates told Cooper that she met with McGahn again because he had additional questions, namely, why the Department of Justice would care if Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of Flynn’s meeting with the Russian ambassador. (Pence repeated the misinformation in a televised interview.)
“We walked back through the same things…that the lying made Flynn vulnerable to Russian blackmailing,” Yates told Cooper, stating that the situation was “absolutely” a national security threat. “I don’t think anyone in the intel community has a doubt about that.”
5. When the White House had access to the underlying evidence that established Flynn’s conduct
Yates said it was available to the administration on January 30. Spicer said the White House didn’t see it until February 2. “It was ready on Monday the 30th,” Yates says.
6. The urgency with which the White House responded to Yates’ warning
Yates says she expected the White House to act quickly after she raised the red flag on Flynn. She would be fired and 18 days would pass before Flynn stepped down.
7. The nature of Flynn’s conduct
Spicer said Flynn stepped down due to a trust issue, not a legal issue.
“I don’t know how the White House reached the conclusion that there wasn’t a legal issue,” Yates said on Tuesday. “It certainly wasn’t from my discussion with them.” When Cooper asked earlier in the interview whether Flynn’s actions were legal, Yates replied: “There was certainly a criminal statute that was implicated by his conduct.”
8. On whether Yates leaked information to the Washington Post
Ahead of Yates’s testimony before the Senate subcommittee, President Trump implied that Yates was the source behind a Washington Post story about the nature of Flynn’s interaction with the Russian ambassador that precipitated his resignation.
“I did not and would not leak classified information,” Yates told Cooper.
9. On whether Yates is a “political opponent” of the Trump administration
The White House called her as much.
Yates, who says she is a Democrat and was appointed deputy attorney general by President Barack Obama, disputes that characterization. “I am a 27-year veteran of the Department of Justice,” she said on Tuesday, adding that her political beliefs had no effect on how she did her job. “Even when you’re appointed by a president, at that point, the politics are supposed to end at the DOJ.”
10. On the constitutionality of Trump’s travel ban
The executive order that Trump signed in late January (and that courts have since struck down) led to Yates’s firing. She was terminated on January 31 after ordering her department to not defend the ban.
On Tuesday, she said the order “was an attempt to make good on the president’s campaign promise of a Muslim ban. [I]t was about religion.”
“And that at the Department of Justice, on something as essential as religious freedom, I couldn’t in good conscious send our DOJ lawyers into make an argument that wasn’t grounded in the truth,” she said.