Less than a week into the Trump administration, Sally Q. Yates, the acting attorney general, hurried to the White House with an urgent concern. The president’s national security adviser, she said, had lied to the vice president about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow. “We wanted to tell the White House as quickly as possible,” Ms. Yates told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Monday. “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.” But President Trump did not immediately fire the adviser, Michael T. Flynn, over the apparent lie or the susceptibility to blackmail. Instead, Mr. Flynn remained in office for 18 more days. Only after the news of his false statements broke publicly did he lose his job on Feb. 13.
Ms. Yates’s testimony, along with a separate revelation Monday that President Barack Obama had warned Mr. Trump not to hire Mr. Flynn, offered a more complete public account of Mr. Flynn’s stunning fall from one of the nation’s most important security posts. It also raised fresh doubts about Mr. Trump’s judgment in keeping Mr. Flynn in place despite serious Justice Department concerns. White House officials have not fully explained why they waited so long.
“I don’t have any way of knowing what, if anything, they did,” Ms. Yates said. “If nothing was done, then certainly that would be concerning.”
At the heart of Monday’s testimony were Mr. Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. Mr. Flynn denied that they had discussed American sanctions, an assertion echoed by Vice President Mike Pence and the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer. But senior F.B.I. and Justice Department officials knew otherwise. Mr. Kislyak, like many foreign diplomats, was under routine surveillance, and his conversations with Mr. Flynn were recorded, officials have said. Investigators knew that Mr. Flynn had, in fact, discussed sanctions.