Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is casting doubt on the claim that former national security adviser Michael Flynn opened himself up to blackmail by the Russian government by making misleading statements about his phone calls with Russia’s ambassador.
“In all honesty, I think it’s kind of a stretch,” Gates said Sunday when asked about the Flynn blackmail theory during an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
The claim that Flynn was a prime blackmail target of the Kremlin was made last week by former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
Yates testified at a Senate hearing that she warned White House general counsel Donald McGahn about Flynn and his contacts with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about the calls by claiming that he and Kislyak did not discuss sanctions. (RELATED: Sally Yates Told The White House That Flynn ‘Could Be Blackmailed’)
“We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates testified. “To state the obvious, you don’t want the national security adviser compromised by the Russians.”
The White House has been heavily criticized for waiting 18 days after the Yates-McGahn meeting to fire Flynn.
But Yates, an Obama appointee who was fired on Jan. 30, didn’t explain exactly why Flynn’s phone calls or his misleading statements about them made him a blackmail target.
And Gates, who served as Pentagon chief in the Bush and Obama administrations, said that Yates’ idea of blackmail does not line up with how intelligence community officials view it.
“Maybe he could have been blackmailed, it’s theoretically possible. I just think it’s a different kind of situation than we would have thought of in the intelligence business,” Gates said.
“It’s one thing if somebody working for the U.S. government has sold secrets to the other side. It’s another if they have something in their personal life that they’re hiding for which they could be blackmailed. Having evidence that they didn’t tell the truth to somebody in the same building that they work,” he said.
“Maybe it’s just the old intel guy, it’s a problem, and it’s a problem that I would tell the president about.”
“It’s hard for me to believe anybody would allow themselves to be blackmailed by the Russians because they didn’t tell the truth to the Vice President of the United States who works 50 feet down the hall,” Gates added.