Political News

Mueller attorney praised Yates as DOJ official, email shows

Posted December 5, 2017 7:51 p.m. EST

— A lawyer on the special counsel team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election lavished praise on Sally Yates after her decision in January to defy President Donald Trump and not enforce his travel ban executive order, according to government emails published Tuesday by the conservative activist group Judicial Watch.

"I am so proud," Andrew Weissman, then a top prosecutor in the Justice Department's criminal division, wrote to then-acting Attorney General Yates after the move. "And in awe. Thank you so much. All my deepest respects."

Earlier in the day, Yates had sent a letter to DOJ lawyers instructing them not to make legal arguments in defense of the executive order on immigration and refugees. She was fired soon after by Trump.

Weissman in June joined special counsel Robert Mueller's office, which is investigating Russian election meddling and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russians. The New York Times has described him as a top lieutenant to Mueller in the investigation.

Several other DOJ employees, including a national security division official and three then-US attorneys, also applauded Yates in emails sent to her after the decision. One longtime department lawyer went on to blast the Trump administration for "such contempt for democratic values and the rule of law."

Judicial Watch obtained the internal DOJ communications as part of a FOIA lawsuit.

The tranche of nearly 400 pages of documents sent to and from Yates accounts for much of her official email content in the first 10 days of the Trump administration -- the brief period that she spent as acting attorney general, before she was fired and while Trump's nominee, Jeff Sessions, faced Senate confirmation.

The Weissman email comes amid renewed scrutiny of the special counsel team. The FBI acknowledged over the weekend that one of its chief counterintelligence experts who had been serving in Mueller's office, Peter Strzok, was removed from the team over the summer after an investigation found that he had sent text messages that could be seen as having an anti-Trump bias.

In one email forwarded to Yates, the chief of staff to former FBI Director James Comey wrote to DOJ officials about a meeting Trump had requested later that day with the agencies that had participated in security for the inaugural activities.

"The director has been asked to represent the FBI and he will attend along with Paul Abbate," wrote the chief of staff, James Rybicki. Abbate is the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office.

It was at that ceremony on January 22 in the Blue Room of the White House where Comey, as he later told a friend, tried to blend into the curtains to avoid notice by the President. Trump in fact called Comey over across the room for a hug as the cameras rolled, chiding him for becoming "more famous than me."

Comey was "disgusted" by the episode, which he thought was an attempt to compromise him in public, his friend Benjamin Wittes wrote earlier this year.

Another document released Tuesday, a DOJ planning spreadsheet from January for upcoming "sensitive or high-profile matters," includes an overview of communications between the DOJ and Michael Flynn, the President's former national security adviser, who pleaded guilty last week to lying to the FBI.

The overview in the document states that the DOJ had on November 30, 2016, requested information from Flynn and his private-sector intelligence firm after press reports linked him to officials acting on behalf of Turkey's government. An attorney for Flynn responded to the DOJ on January 11, 2017, advising that Flynn and his firm would "probably register under (the Foreign Agents Registration Act), which could happen imminently and would be public," according to the document.

In March, weeks after Flynn resigned for lying to the vice president about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, the White House acknowledged it was aware of Flynn's unregistered foreign lobbying during the transition period.

Yates, now a distinguished lecturer at Georgetown University's law school, has been critical of the administration since her firing.

The email informing her of that termination is included in Tuesday's document dump.

It was short. "I am informing you that the President has removed you from the office of Deputy Attorney General of the United States," says the "notice of removal" sent by John DeStefano, assistant to the President and director, presidential personnel, at 10:16 p.m. on January 30.