Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Monday that she’d warned the White House less than a week into the Trump presidency that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was lying about whether he had discussed U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and that these public and private lies made him susceptible to blackmail.
Sally Yates: “We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and, additionally, that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done. And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others. And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”
Yates’s testimony renewed questions about why President Trump disregarded her warning and did not oust Flynn until 18 days later, after Flynn’s lies were revealed by the press.
Ahead of Yates’s testimony Monday, Trump launched a tweet storm, including one in which he wrote, “Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.” Some lawyers say Trump’s tweet constitutes illegal witness intimidation. Former criminal investigator Seth Abramson tweeted, “The president is committing a serious felony (witness tampering) in full view of the American public. What’s the media going to do about it?”
Also on Monday, former Obama administration officials said Obama had personally warned Trump about Flynn, only days after Trump was elected. But on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to shift blame onto the Obama administration, asking why it hadn’t revoked Flynn’s security clearance.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “The question that you have to ask yourself, really, is: If President Obama was truly concerned about General Flynn, why didn’t he suspend General Flynn’s security clearance, which they had just reapproved months earlier?”
White House vetting is significantly more extensive than security clearance, which is held by 4 million people.
During Sally Yates’s testimony Monday, she also clashed with Texas Senator Ted Cruz over her refusal to defend President Trump’s first Muslim travel ban, in a move that cost her her job. This is Yates.
Sally Yates: “And in this particular instance, particularly where we were talking about a fundamental issue of religious freedom—not the interpretation of some arcane statute, but religious freedom—it was appropriate for us to look at the intent behind the president’s actions. And the intent is laid out in his statements.”
Sen. Ted Cruz: “A final very brief question. In the over 200 years of the Department of Justice history, are you aware of any instance in which the Department of Justice has formally approved the legality of a policy, and three days later the attorney general has directed the department not to follow that policy and to defy that policy?”
Sally Yates: “I’m not, but I’m also not aware of a situation where the Office of Legal Counsel was advised not to tell the attorney general about it until after it was over.”
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, heard arguments over Trump’s second travel ban, which sought to ban all refugees and citizens of six majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. The 13-judge panel appeared to be divided over the ban, with a number of judges saying that Trump’s own statements showed the second travel ban still sought to unconstitutionally discriminate against people based on their religion. This is Judge Henry Floyd.
Judge Henry Floyd: “Shortly after executive order two was signed, Sean Spicer said the principles remain the same. Trump, President Trump’s statement, concurrent with that time: 'You know my plans.' Spicer: 'President Trump yesterday continued to deliver on campaign promises.' Is there anything other than willful blindness that would prevent us from getting behind those statements?”
Another judge, Robert King, pointed out that until Monday, Trump’s campaign website had continued to call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The White House removed that page during Monday’s hearing, after facing questions from reporters.
In Syria, the Assad government says the United Nations and other international groups will not be allowed to monitor the so-called de-escalation zones, under a plan brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey that took effect over the weekend. Instead, the Syrian foreign minister announced Monday the Syrian Army would respond to any potential violations within these zones—which seek to become safe areas for civilians fleeing violence.
Armed anti-government opposition groups have rejected the proposal, accusing the Syrian government of carrying out the majority of attacks against civilians. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss Syria and whether the U.S. will sign on to the de-escalation zones proposal.
Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes continue in Syria in and around Raqqa. The journalistic monitoring group Airwars says multiple U.S.-led airstrikes on May 4 and May 5 reportedly killed between a dozen and two dozen Syrian civilians.
In Washington, D.C., members of the Trump administration and Pentagon officials are pushing for the deployment of least 3,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and the relaxation of restrictions on launching airstrikes there. The recommendation comes after the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, warned the war has reached a stalemate. The United Nations says last year saw a record number of Afghan civilian deaths and displacement. President Trump is expected to decide whether to approve the deployment of additional troops later this month. There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In Somalia, a car bomb explosion killed at least eight people in the capital Mogadishu Monday. The militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the targets were police, military and intelligence officials.
The World Health Organization says at least 25 people have died in Yemen from a cholera outbreak, as the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen continues to destroy the country’s health and sanitation infrastructure. The United Nations has warned the ongoing war also threatens to push Yemen into famine.
In Libya, the bodies of several refugees, including one infant, have washed up onto the shore, as hundreds more are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean over the weekend. This is a spokesperson from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
Medea Savary: “We’re still trying to get more information from the people that will disembark over the coming day to see if there are survivors of this incident, but this tragically brings the total number of people dead and missing since the beginning of the year to more than 1,150.”
In South Korea, voters are heading to the polls today for a special election to fill the seat of former President Park Geun-hye, who was ousted and jailed on charges of bribery, extortion and abuse of power after massive street demonstrations in March. The front-running candidate, Moon Jae-in, has pledged to challenge the THAAD missile defense system the U.S. recently installed in South Korea. The most left-leaning candidate in the race, Sim Sang-jung, has campaigned on a platform of wealth redistribution, universal basic income, LGBT rights and other progressive causes.
In Indonesia, a court has ruled to sentence former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama to two years’ imprisonment after being convicted of religious blasphemy. Supporters of the governor, who is known as Ahok, gathered outside the courtroom Tuesday to protest the verdict and sentence.
Ahok supporter: “We are disappointed. The law is blind. It can no longer tell between right and wrong. Ahok has sacrificed being governor, and we accepted that. Now he’s innocent, yet accused of blasphemy. We are disappointed in the law in Indonesia.”
Click here to see our full interview with journalist Allan Nairn about how associates of President Donald Trump have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS to orchestrate the massive street demonstrations that brought down Governor Ahok—and eventually seek to bring down the Indonesian president.
In France, hundreds of activists marched to the party headquarters of President-elect Emmanuel Macron Monday to deliver a petition, signed by more than 30,000 people, demanding Macron support workers’ rights and progressive programs. This is is activist Laurent Berthet.
Laurent Berthet: “Today we want to tell Emmanuel Macron that a lot of people in France didn’t vote in his favor, but, first and foremost, against Marine Le Pen, and that he doesn’t reflect our hopes for a real transition on the ecological, economic and social level. The only thing he has for us is his openness to Europe.”
Back in the United States, the Interior Department froze all meetings and work for more than 200 advisory boards and committees last week—about a third of which were related to science. The Interior Department says the committees have been frozen until Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke can review them. The freezings came as, on Friday, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt dismissed half of the members of an EPA scientific review board, including Michigan State University professor Robert Richardson, who tweeted, “Today I was Trumped.”
In Mississippi, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit accusing the Madison County Sheriff’s Department of imposing a permanent state of siege against the county’s African-American residents. The lawsuit says the sheriff’s department has maintained a series of roadblocks and checkpoints in majority-black neighborhoods, where African-American residents are subjected to illegal searches. The suit represents 10 black residents in the county, including Quinnetta Manning, whose husband was attacked and beaten by sheriff’s department officers, and who says, “I am scared all the time that the sheriff’s department will hurt me or [my] family.”
And in Texas, the family of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards has sued the Balch Springs Police Department over the murder of their son. Police body cam video shows police officer Roy Oliver fired his assault rifle into a car carrying five black teenagers as they drove away from the officer. One of the car’s passengers says the officer never even ordered the boys to stop driving before opening fire. Oliver has been fired from the police department and charged with murder.