One of the memes developing out of the testimony of former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was that she warned the White House that Mike Flynn was subject to blackmail because of his contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States:
That’s how long it took the White House to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn after acting Attorney General Sally Yates met with White House counsel Don McGahn to inform him that Flynn wasn’t telling the truth about his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and, as a result, represented a blackmail risk.
“We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates said in a Senate subcommittee hearing aimed at gathering details of the Russian hacking of the 2016 election on Monday in Washington. She added: “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: It appears that Flynn lied to VP Pence 00:54
Yates noted that she met with McGahn on January 26 and again on January 27 to inform him of the fact that Flynn’s assertions — as relayed in the media by Vice President Mike Pence — were simply not accurate. She did so both because she thought the Justice Department owed it to the vice president to tell him what they knew but also because they knew the Russians knew of Flynn’s problems.
Yates added that McGahn asked for — and was granted — the chance to examine the materials that led the Justice Department to their conclusion. She said she did not know whether McGahn or anyone else in the White House actually reviewed those materials. Yates also repeatedly said she decided to inform McGahn and the White House of what they knew of Flynn so the White House could “take action.”
I’m sort of stunned by this because that really isn’t how blackmail works.
Words have meanings. According to a standard law dictionary:
Blackmail is a form of extortion in which the threat is to expose embarrassing, damaging information to family, friends or the public.
Blackmail is not a new concept. It has been around as long as humans have formed communities. But the blackmail vulnerability alleged by Yates breaks new ground. The moment the White House was informed that Flynn had lied to Pence, blackmail was no longer possible. For that matter, how were the Russians to know that Flynn had lied to Pence and it wasn’t Pence simply doing what most politicians do?
We also know that the conversation Flynn did not contain blackmail material:
The FBI in late December reviewed intercepts of communications between the Russian ambassador to the United States and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn — national security adviser to then-President-elect Trump — but has not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government, U.S. officials said.
The calls were picked up as part of routine electronic surveillance of Russian officials and agents in the United States, which is one of the FBI’s responsibilities, according to the U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss counterintelligence operations.
We also know that Flynn knew his call would be intercepted (he was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency) and he was warned about making the calls:
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was warned by senior members of President Trump’s transition team about the risks of his contacts with the Russian ambassador weeks before the December call that led to Flynn’s forced resignation, current and former U.S. officials said.
Flynn was told during a late November meeting that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s conversations were almost certainly being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said, a caution that came a month before Flynn was recorded discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, suggesting that the Trump administration would reevaluate the issue.
Any doubt that Flynn knew about the monitoring went away shortly after Inauguration Day when he was interviewed by FBI agents about the call:
FBI agents interviewed then-national security advisor Michael Flynn last month about his conversations in December with the Russian ambassador to the United States, a U.S. official familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
The official would not describe what Flynn said during in the interview, which took place after he took over as national security advisor on Jan. 20
I don’t see how you make a case for blackmail out of this. Flynn knew the calls were intercepted. His colleagues knew about the calls. The FBI interviewed him about the calls. Any leverage the Russians had based him making the calls was zero. The Russians had no way of knowing what Flynn had told Pence and the very notion that lying to someone who is not your boss is blackmail material is laughable (no, no one in the NSC works for the vice president) . In short, there was nothing about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, or with Pence, that made him subject to blackmail by the Russians.
I’m not a Flynn fan but that doesn’t mean that the word of a duplicitous and dishonest Obama shill should be taken as gospel. If Flynn was subject to blackmail by the Russians it had nothing to do with anything Sally Yates said in yesterday’s public testimony.