If you think you know everything about how the president feels about women, listen as former co-chief of staff and chief strategist Steve Bannon relays the president’s disgust for Yates. Trump, Wolff writes in Fire and Fury, was up against the Justice Department but thought he was “up against Sally Yates, who was, he steamed, such a c---t.”
For its crudity and window into Trump’s misogynistic mind, this is as revealing as the Access Hollywood tape. The “c” word, which still has the power to shock, was reportedly employed by the president to describe the former acting attorney general of the United States for taking actions in her official capacity he didn’t like.
How cheek, what nerve for Yates to follow the rule of law, as was routinely done in those long-ago days before a sitting president challenged the authority of the Justice Department and the FBI as if he were a Nigerian prince. Trump told Bannon, says Wolfe, that Yates had been “lying in wait” to unload on him when she testified before the Senate in May ever since he’d fired her at the end of January for her decision—the same one reached by most legal scholars and U.S. judges—that the law did not support the president’s travel ban blocking entry to the U.S. to people from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Still worse, from Trump’s view, was Yates telling the White House six days after the inauguration that—contrary to the story that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was swearing to, and the White House (including Vice President Mike Pence) was spreading—the feds had incontrovertible proof that the general, who had lucrative business dealings with Russia, had in fact talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about easing up on sanctions. (Wolff notes that when Flynn’s business came up during the campaign, those concerns were shrugged off, because no one really expected Trump nor Flynn to make it to the White House.)
The day after Yates warned the West Wing about Flynn’s potentially treasonous actions, White House counsel Donald McGahn summoned her back, not to say thanks but to ask why this concerned her at all. “What does it matter to the Justice Department if one White House official lies to another?” he asked.
That line should figure prominently in any history of this period or at least on a needlepoint pillow as the operative ethic of the Trump administration. It wasn’t until word about Flynn leaked out to the press that Trump felt the heat to get rid of him. By that time, Yates, whose grandmother was one of the first women admitted to the Georgia Bar and whose father was an appellate court judge, was gone, sent packing by Trump a mere three weeks into her tenure as acting AG. Flynn stayed on for another 18 days, privy to the most sensitive intelligence the country has, including joining Trump for a phone call with Russia President Vladimir Putin. When Trump finally let Flynn, “a great guy,” go, he did so without any nasty name-calling. “I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don’t even know,” the president said, referring to Yates, “and immediately run out and fire a general.”
A lieutenant general, actually, but who’s counting stars. In firing Yates, Trump picked on the wrong woman. While those accusing Trump of sexual assault go largely ignored by Republican leaders, Yates got a full-fledged hearing before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee to tell what happened. With courtroom skills honed over 27 years of service, during which she prosecuted a number of Democratic officials for corruption, Yates testified about Flynn’s conversations (they were on tape), his lies about them, and how those subjected him to blackmail.
To anyone listening to her testimony, it came as no surprise a few months later when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Anyone listening now, pay attention to the case Trump is making through surrogates on the Hill for firing Bob Mueller.
It’s worth noting that as mad as he was at Comey for pursuing the Russia investigation and failing to pledge his loyalty, the worst Trump came up with for the male FBI boss was “nut job.” The female acting attorney general, though, was rhetorically reduced by the president to a body part, just like he did many of his women accusers who weren’t, he noted, pretty or young enough for him to bother molesting, and the women whose “p****ies” he boasted about grabbing with impunity because he was famous.
Not today or tomorrow but someday, he may come to learn from women, and the rule of law, that he has no impunity after all.