Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has accused the White House of being more interested in protecting President Donald Trump from scandal than safeguarding national security.
Whitehouse’s comments follow former acting Attorney General Sally Yates' testimony that she had warned the Trump administration that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by Russian intelligence two weeks before he was dismissed.
On May 9, Whitehouse blasted the White House for not immediately firing Flynn after Yates had warned them.
"I think they may very well have seen Sally Yates' warning as just a political attack and not seen the fact that she was there with a very serious national security concern,” Whitehouse told CNN.
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On May 8, Yates testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. The former head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that she had warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had not been forthcoming with either Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russian officials.
"The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done," Yates said, according to The Washington Post. "The Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others ... they likely had proof of this information -- and that created a compromise situation, where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians."
Yates disclosed that she had spoken with McGahn about the matter on Jan. 26 and 27, adding that he had "demonstrated that he understood that this was serious."
On Jan. 30, Trump fired Yates from the DOJ after she refused to defend his executive order prohibiting travel from several Muslim-majority countries. Flynn remained as the president's national security adviser until Feb. 13, when he was fired after media reports unearthed that he had misled Pence, according to USA Today.
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Whitehouse, the ranking member of the Senate subcommittee, suggested that the Trump administration had ignored Yates' information because they wanted to avoid damaging Trump's reputation.
"They are attuned, it seems, more to defending the president than to taking care of national security business in an appropriate way," Whitehouse said.
The Rhode Island lawmaker added: "That would help explain why, for these 18 days, until the story actually appeared in The Washington Post and threatened to embarrass the president, that they didn't appear to take any serious action to limit this guy's access to classified information or sensitive meetings."
That same day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asserted that Trump had given Flynn due process in the interval between Yates' warning and the national security adviser's ultimate firing.
"The decision that we made was the right one," Spicer said, according to ABC News. "The president made a decision. He stands by it. ... The process worked."