The above clip shows how Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ Justice Department tenure has come full circle after she took a symbolic stand against President Trump’s immigration ban. Trump fired her on Monday night after she ordered the Justice Department not to defend the ban in court. This clip — which hails from her 2015 deputy U.S. attorney general confirmation hearing — shows the controversial Senator Jeff Sessions asking Yates, “Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say ‘no’ to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?”
Yates answered, “Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.” On Monday, Yates believed she was following that obligation. Clearly, Trump did not agree.
Not only was Yates doing her job, but she also knew that she wasn’t going to hold her position much longer. So, she didn’t stand to lose much by speaking out against Trump’s banning of refugees from seven Muslim-majorities countries (while he ignored Saudi Arabia because he does a lot of business there). If confirmed as attorney general, Sessions will undoubtedly support Trump’s executive order. However, Yates has now ensured that the Senate’s confirmation vote will essentially be a judgment call on the order.
Will the massive protests against Trump’s ban work any effect on the Senate vote? Probably not, but Yates has set the stage for their very public decision.