Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates and her top lieutenant, Principal Assistant Deputy Attorney General Matthew Axelrod, refused to answer questions this week about whether they tried to squelch an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation during the final months of the 2016 campaign.
Ms. Yates was hosting a conference Thursday at Georgetown Law School urging the public and the media to do more to hold President Trump accountable, and Mr. Axelrod was a panelist for the conference, titled “Democracy in the Balance: The Essential Role of Democratic Institutions & Norms.”
When this reporter approached Ms. Yates, who served as the No. 2 official at the Obama Justice Department, she recoiled at questions about her handling of investigations into the Clinton Foundation. She had a Georgetown media representative intervene to head off further inquiries, saying all interview requests had to go through the school.
Once the media representative was in between Ms. Yates and the reporter, the former deputy attorney general briskly fled the other way, ignoring the reporter’s entreaties about the value of a free press in democracy.
Ms. Yates oversaw the work of Mr. Axelrod during the 2016 election season, at a time when a top FBI official thought he was trying to pressure them to back off of the investigation into the foundation run by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s family.
The Justice Department inspector general said then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fielded a call in August 2016 from the principal assistant deputy attorney general that Mr. McCabe interpreted as pressure to drop the probe. The report didn’t name Mr. Axelrod, but sources and documents show at the time Mr. Axelrod filled that role, and reported to Ms. Yates.
Mr. McCabe told investigators that the conversation was “very dramatic” and he never had a similar confrontation in his entire FBI career.
Former FBI agents also told The Times the Justice Department’s outreach in the middle of an investigation was highly questionable.
Neither Ms. Yates nor Mr. Axelrod responded to repeated attempts by The Times to reach them by phone or email, so The Times attended Thursday’s conference at Georgetown Law, where Ms. Yates is now serving as a lecturer.
The three-hour conference focused on how President Trump has changed democratic institutions with many speakers critical of the president. One panel emphasized the need for a free press in the Trump era, a theme Ms. Yates echoed in her closing remarks.
“It is critical that stories cannot be waved away as ‘fake news,’” she said.
Attempts to talk to Mr. Axelrod were also unsuccessful. As the reporter approached him, the law school’s media representative again obstructed him and said all interview requests had to go through her. The reporter then requested to interview Mr. Axelrod. The media representative went to speak with Mr. Axelrod, who was talking with a crowd of people, and informed the reporter the former high-level Justice Department official wouldn’t speak with anyone.