Sally Yates just testified for the first time about her now-legendary refusal to defend Trump’s travel ban — and, predictably, she didn’t come to play around.
In the key exchange, the former acting-attorney general calmly explained to Sen. John Cornyn why she refused to defend what she called an “unlawful” executive order.
She couldn’t, in good conscious, she said, send Department of Justice attorneys in to lie on the administration’s behalf about what the purpose of the executive order really was: an attempt to discriminate against Muslims.
SALLY YATES: All arguments have to be based on truth because we’re the Department of Justice. We’re not just a law firm. We’re the Department of Justice.
CORNYN: Do you distinguish the truth from lawful?
YATES: Yes, because in this instance, in looking at what the intent was of the executive order, which was derived in part from an analysis of facts outside the face of the order, that is part of what led to our conclusion that it was not lawful.
The outside facts Yates considered in making her decision were public statements made by officials involved with the drafting of the order — statements that contradicted the administration’s assertion that the order was not intentionally discriminatory.
Though Yates didn’t clarify which statements she was referring to, possible candidates include President Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and campaign advisor Rudy Giuliani’s admission that, following the election, Trump had asked him about instituting a Muslim travel ban — specifically “how to do it legally.”
Basically, Yates believed that Trump’s insistence that the order wasn’t a Muslim ban was BS and felt it would be unprofessional to argue that BS in court.
“I believed that any argument that we would have to make in its defense would not be grounded in the truth,” she said, bluntly, later in the May 8, 2017, hearing.
Yates metaphorically dunking on her Senate critics was more than satisfying to watch — it was a model of principled resistance.
The former Justice Department official drove her point home by clarifying her belief that following orders, even compelling ones, is less important than sticking up for the truth — no matter what the professional consequences might be.
“I looked at this, I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful,” Yates said of the executive order. “I also thought that it was inconsistent with the principles of the Department of Justice. And I said no. And that’s what I promised you I would do, and that’s what I did.”
In the end, by refusing to defend an order she felt was unlawful, Yates didn’t just do the right thing.
“I did my job,” she explained. Thankfully, someone did.