South Korea presidency ‘won by liberal Moon Jae-in’

Moon Jae-in
  • As Sally Yates warned White House Mike Flynn still at risk of Russian blackmail

South Korean voters have overwhelmingly chosen the liberal candidate Moon Jae-in as their next president, an exit poll suggests.

It put Mr Moon on 41.4%, with his nearest challenger, conservative Hong Joon-Pyo, on 23.3%.

Mr Moon favours greater dialogue with North Korea, in a change to current South Korean policy.

The early election was called after a corruption scandal led to the impeachment of the former president.

Park Geun-hye is accused of allowing a close friend to extort money from companies. She denies all wrongdoing.

A former member of South Korea’s special forces turned human rights lawyer, Mr Moon, of the Democratic Party of Korea, unsuccessfully ran against Ms Park in 2012 elections.

He has positioned himself as the man who can move the country on from the scandals of Ms Park’s era.

“I feel that not only my party and myself but also the people have been more desperate for a change of government,” he said while casting his vote earlier on Tuesday.

Mr Moon has advocated greater dialogue with the North while maintaining pressure and sanctions, in contrast to Ms Park who cut almost all ties.

He has been critical of the two previous conservative administrations for failing to stop North Korea’s weapons development.

But while tensions on the Korean peninsula ensured the election was closely watched, for South Koreans the priority has been corruption and the economy.

Mr Moon has talked of reforming South Korea’s huge family-run conglomerates, known as chaebols, which dominate the domestic economy.

In the meantime, former acting US attorney general Sally Yates said on Monday that she warned the White House on 26 January that then national security adviser Michael Flynn was “compromised” and open to blackmail by the Russian government.

Her comments to a Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing came after it emerged that Barack Obama had warned Donald Trump in November against hiring Flynn, who was forced to resign as national security adviser over his contacts with Russia after less than three weeks in office.

Testifying for the first time about her knowledge of contacts between the Trump camp and Moscow, Yates said on Monday that she requested an urgent meeting with the White House counsel, Don McGahn, after she became aware that the White House had made false public statements about Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.

White House officials including the vice-president, Mike Pence, had stated that Flynn and Kislyak had simply exchanged pleasantries and talked about arranging a future meeting between Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

It later emerged that the conversations were more extensive and included discussion of sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration.

Yates said that she telephoned McGahn on the morning of 26 January, two days after the FBI interviewed Flynn about the contacts and had given her a detailed readout of the interview. She told McGahn she needed to meet him in person because what she had to say was so sensitive.

Yates and a senior justice department colleague met McGahn the same afternoon in a secure room in the White House and told him that statements made by Pence and other administration officials about Flynn’s behaviour were untrue, and that “Flynn’s underlying conduct was problematic in and of itself”.

McGahn called Yates back to the White House on 27 January and put further questions to her about Flynn. According to her Senate testimony, the White House counsel asked her: “Why does it matter to the Department of Justice whether one White House official lies to another White House official?”

“We explained to him that it’s a lot more than that,” Yates said. “We also said that we weren’t the only ones who knew this. The Russians also knew what General Flynn had done and that what Pence said was not true. The Russians not only knew this but they also likely had proof.”

Yates added: “To restate the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

McGahn also asked whether Flynn’s actions could lead to criminal prosecution and whether White House action against him would interfere with FBI investigations.

Yates said she could not speak about statutes under which Flynn might be prosecuted without revealing classified information about the investigation, but she told McGahn that any White House action on Flynn would not interfere with the FBI investigation as he had already been interviewed.

Lastly, McGahn asked Yates whether he or his staff could come to the justice department to review classified evidence of Flynn’s conduct. Yates consulted the FBI over the weekend and called McGahn back on Monday, 30 January, and said White House officials could come to the department to review the material.

She said she did not know if McGahn or his staff took up her offer, as that was her last day at the department: Trump fired her on the night of 30 January, ostensibly because she had refused to defend his executive order suspending entry for refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Flynn resigned on 13 February only after the details of his contacts with Kislyak were leaked to the press. Yates said she did not know what action the White House took, if any, to restrict his access to classified material.

BBC with additional report from Guardian