What’s Old Is News Again: Nets Hype Testimony of Sally Yates

After almost four months since former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ warning to the White House regarding the lies of then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was illegally leaked to the press, Yates testified before a Senate sub-committee Monday where she confirmed that’s what she did. The media played up the hearing, expecting there to be a “bombshell.” In reality, she simply offered a detailed retelling of her actions. But that didn’t stop the Big Three Networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) from going nuts later that night.

“Her testimony ending just a short time ago, offering in detail the warning she says she gave the White House about President Trump's national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn,” announced ABC Anchor David Muir at the start of World News Tonight. “Yates telling congress about her two meetings inside the White House, with the White House council and what he then asked about Flynn.”

The report by ABC’s Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas was filled with theatrics:

She walked into a crush of cameras … The intense scrutiny following every word of the testimony from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates as she outlined the steps she took to warn the White House about then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Thomas’ report was a mere play-by-play of Yates’ story to congress. He spent almost four and a half minutes retelling her tale of warning, which they already reported back on February 15 when it first leaked. One of the few new things to come out of the hearing was that President Obama had warned Trump as well, but Thomas only briefly mentioned that as he concluded his report.

On CBS Evening News, Anchor Scott Pelley declared that “President Trump’s team got more than one warning about Michael Flynn.” Their coverage too was just a glorified retelling of her story that clocked in at a little over three minutes.

A theme that was carried on all three networks was the idea that the White House didn’t want to do anything with Yates’ warning. But according to her own testimony that may not be the case. As reported by CBS, Yates told the committee that the White House lawyer was “concerned that taking action might interfere with the FBI investigation. And we told him, both the senior career official and I, that he should not be concerned with it.” This seems to indicate they wanted to not harm the FBI investigation.

CBS’s Pegues did note that the lawyer “asked to see the evidence against Flynn. Three days later on January 30th, Yates agreed, but that night the Obama straight holdover was fired for refusing to defend the President's travel ban.” This action by the White House lawyer coupled with the willingness to meet multiple times would seem to indicate the administration was taking the warning seriously.

This part of Yates testimony was ignored altogether by NBC Nightly News. They instead chose to whine about how President Trump was blaming the Obama administration for allowing Flynn to keep his security clearance. They gave the story a total of three and a half minutes, but they did give more time to the news that Obama warned Trump than any other network. 

Again, there was little gained from her testimony that we didn’t already know besides more fine detail of how and why she decided to warn the White House. And with the absence of the mythical “bombshell,” the networks seemed determined to make hay out of her testimony the best they could. Or perhaps they were surprised by how accurate their anonymous source-based reporting was. 

Transcripts below:

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ABC
World News Tonight
May 8, 2017
6:31:19 PM Eastern

DAVID MUIR: Good evening. And it's great to have you with us here on a very busy Monday night. And we begin with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Her testimony ending just a short time ago, offering in detail the warning she says she gave the White House about President Trump's national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn. Yates telling congress about her two meetings inside the White House, with the White House council and what he then asked about Flynn. And she made it clear today, she says she warned them Flynn was in her words, “compromised,” and could be blackmailed by Russia. Yet Michael Flynn would stay on the job for weeks and was there for a call with President Trump and President Putin. ABC Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas leading us off.

[Cuts to video]

PIERRE THOMAS: She walked into a crush of cameras. Senator Lindsey graham opening with this –

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Back in your cages.

THOMAS: The intense scrutiny following every word of the testimony from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates as she outlined the steps she took to warn the White House about then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

SALLY YATES: Because this was a matter of some urgency.

THOMAS: Yates describing an intense call to White House counsel Don McGahn on the morning of January 26th.

She went to the White House that very day to discuss concerns Flynn might have been lying to the White House.

Yates citing repeated assertions from Trump officials suggesting that Flynn had told them that he had not discussed President Obama’s sanctions against the Kremlin for meddling in the U.S. election on a call with the Russian ambassador. But Yates knew otherwise, because Flynn was caught on electronic surveillance allegedly discussing those sanctions the same day they were announced.

MUIR: All right, so, let's get to Pierre Thomas live at the Capitol tonight. Yates also testifying, Pierre, that the White House counsel asked during one of those meetings whether Flynn should be fired, they asked her?

THOMAS: David, Yates said she offered no recommendation, saying it was a White House call, not hers. And we are hearing today that the Obama administration officials-- that the President warned Trump in the oval office about Flynn, just two days after the election. David? 

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CBS Evening News
May 8, 2017
6:31:20 PM Eastern

SCOTT PELLEY: President Trump’s team got more than one warning about Michael Flynn. The President's first national security adviser who was fired for lying to the Vice President. We learned today that after the election, President Obama, who had fired Flynn himself from an intelligence job, let President-Elect Trump know that he shouldn't hire Flynn. And today former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told congress that she warned the White House that the Russians knew about the lie to Vice President Pence and could blackmail Flynn. Here's Jeff Pegues.

[Cuts to video]

SALLY YATES: This was a matter of some urgency.

JEFF PEGUES: Sally Yates said she felt compelled to inform the White House that President Trump's national Security adviser, Michael Flynn had misled the Vice President about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December. U.S. intelligence had gathered intercepts of his conversations. Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: So what you're saying is that General Flynn lied to the vice president?

YATES: That's certainly how it appeared, yes, because the Vice President went out and made statements about General Flynn's conduct that he said were based on what General Flynn had told him. And we knew that that just flat wasn't true.

DONALD TRUMP: I Donald John Trump do solemnly swear...

PEGUES: On January 24th, four days after President Trump's inauguration, Flynn was interviewed by FBI agents at the White House as part of the bureau's investigation into Russian meddling in the election. Two days later on the 26th, Yates met at the White House with the President's lawyer Don McGahn. She said she informed him then that Flynn had been compromised.

The next day Yates met with McGahn again. He asked whether the Justice department was pursuing charges against Flynn.

YATES: They were concerned that taking action might interfere with the FBI investigation. And we told him, both the senior career official and I, that he should not be concerned with it.

PEGUES: McGahn then asked to see the evidence against Flynn. Three days later on January 30th, Yates agreed, but that night the Obama straight holdover was fired for refusing to defend the President's travel ban.

YATES: I don't know what happened after that because that was my last day with DOJ.

PEGUES: Even after Yates' warning, the White House didn't act right away. It took more than two weeks for Flynn to be fired.

CyberAlerts Foreign Policy Russia Government Agencies Bias by Omission Conspiracy Theories Labeling Political Scandals ABC World News CBS CBS Evening News NBC NBC Nightly News Video Mike Flynn Jeff Pegues Justice Department David Muir Pierre Thomas Scott Pelley