FILE PHOTO: Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former top Justice Department official Sally Yates said on Sunday that if Donald Trump were not president, he would have been indicted on obstruction charges in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Yates, a career federal prosecutor who rose to acting attorney general before Trump fired her in 2017 less than two weeks into his presidency, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Republican president was shielded by department guidelines that a sitting president should not be indicted.
“I’ve personally prosecuted obstruction cases on far, far less evidence than this,” Yates said. “And yes, I believe, if he were not the president of the United States, he would likely be indicted on obstruction.”
Mueller’s report, redacted for classified and other sensitive information, detailed a series of actions by Trump to impede the investigation. It did not make a conclusion on whether those actions constituted the crime of obstruction said the findings did not exonerate him.
The report cited attempts by Trump to thwart the Mueller investigation, as well as the president telling Russian officials he had faced “great pressure” from the probe but that it had been eased after he fired FBI Director James Comey. [nL1N22015W]
Mueller also said Congress has the power to address whether Trump violated the law and Congress is conducting its own investigations into whether he obstructed justice.
Yates told NBC there was a larger question raised by the report, which she said painted a “devastating portrait” of a campaign that welcomed Russian intervention, lied about it and then tried to cover it up.
“Is this the kind of conduct that we should expect from the president of the United States?” she said. “I mean, when the Russians came knocking at their door, you would expect that a man who likes to make a show of hugging the flag would’ve done the patriotic thing and would’ve notified law enforcement.”
Yates was fired by Trump after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and refused to defend new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations. (reut.rs/2PCUkvd)
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott