Sean Spicer's explanation for why it took 18 days to fire Flynn defies the space-time continuum

White House defends 18-day delay in firing Flynn
White House defends 18-day delay in firing Flynn

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White House defends 18-day delay in firing Flynn 02:52

(CNN)Sean Spicer had a simple explanation Tuesday when pressed on why 18 days passed between when the White House was informed that national security adviser Michael Flynn had been compromised by the Russians and when President Donald Trump parted ways with him: We didn't trust Sally Yates.

Here's Spicer's full explanation on the then-acting attorney general (thanks to Mediaite for the transcription):
"Someone who is not exactly a supporter of the President's agenda, who a couple days after this first conversation took place refused to uphold a lawful order of the President, who is not exactly someone that was excited about President Trump taking office or his agenda -- hold on, let me answer the question. She had come here, given a heads' up, told us there were materials, and at the same time, we did what we should do. Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads' up about something and says, 'I want to share some information' doesn't mean you immediately jump the gun and go take an action. I think if you flip the scenario and say, 'What if we had just dismissed somebody because a political opponent of the President had made an utterance?' You would argue it was pretty irrational to act in that manner. We did what we were supposed to do. The President made ultimately the right decision."
OK. Lots to unpack there.
Here's the most important thing: Spicer used the fact that Yates refused to enforce Trump's travel ban as evidence that she was a "political opponent" of the President and, therefore, that the White House was right to not simply take her word for it on Flynn.
The problem with that explanation is this: Yates talked to White House counsel Don McGahn about Flynn being compromised by the Russians on January 26 and January 27. She didn't refuse to enforce the travel ban until January 30 -- the same day she was fired.
In fact, she told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monday she didn't know about the travel ban when she first told McGahn about Flynn, but rather learned about it from media reports. The Executive Order was signed on a Friday night, Jan. 27.
So how -- short of a time machine -- can something that happened four days after Yates' conversation with McGahn be used as evidence of why the White House was right not to trust what Yates was saying about Flynn?
The answer, of course, is that it can't.
Strip down Spicer's argument about why Trump didn't act on Flynn for 18 days after the first Yates-McGahn meeting, and you are left with this: They dismissed or downplayed what Yates told them because they viewed her as a political enemy.
What is indisputable: Yates was appointed as an US attorney and as deputy attorney general by President Barack Obama. And, as this CNN profile of her notes, "she spent years defending Obama administration policies, championing changes to the criminal justice system and curtailing the federal government's use of private prisons" from within the Justice Department.
But Yates had been working at the Justice Department since the late 1980s. And she would have been -- at a minimum -- risking her career by either misleading or hyping up the idea that one of Trump's closest allies was in danger of being blackmailed by the Russians.
In Tuesday's press briefing, Spicer insisted that Yates was no friend to Trump because she had been rumored to be part of a potential Hillary Clinton administration if the former secretary of state won. If an article exists that proves Spicer right on that, I couldn't find it. (Here's the widely circulated "ghost" Clinton Cabinet, as reported by Axios' Mike Allen. Yates is not mentioned for attorney general or any other role.)
What Spicer aimed to do in Tuesday's briefing was cast Yates as a bitter partisan that the Trump White House was right to distrust. But the evidence he cited to prove that claim, well, doesn't.
Unless, of course, there's a time machine in the White House I don't know about.